In 1983, President Ronald Reagan designated November as National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness and National Family Caregivers Month. This is a great month to consider important questions about the progressive disease that affects 5 million Americans, and to appreciate the work of the caregivers who care for someone with the illness.
Alzheimer’s disease, according to the National Institute on Aging, is an irreversible, progressive brain disorder that slowly does away with thinking skills and other simple brain functions. Symptoms can start showing up around age 60, and it is cited as the most common cause of dementia among older adults.
The task of caring for a loved one or patient with Alzheimer’s disease is not an easy one. Having a family member diagnosed with the disease changes their life, and it changes yours. Depending on the stage of the disease, a caregiver may have to provide around-the-clock care. Being a caregiver requires tremendous patience, understanding, and heart, so there are times when it gets difficult, and caregivers may need some outside help to deal with taxing emotional and physical demands.
Look for Support Groups
Many communities will have an Alzheimer’s support group chapter. The Huffington Post writes about the kind of helpful conversations that happen in these groups, where everyone shares their stories and their woes. This provides a plethora of helpful first-hand advice, coping mechanisms, and common questions.
Give Yourself Time
As often happens, the focus is immediately shifted to the person with the disease, and caregivers often neglect their own well-being and health due to becoming intimately involved [in] the care of their loved ones. As the New York Times reports, seeking out support from other family members and friends can help prevent mounting depression and anxiety.
Try to make time for your own activities and allow yourself moments to leave the house in order to clear your head or get some distance. US News writes that making time to take a walk, head outdoors, or go out to dinner or the movies to clear your mind is essential.
This is where having another family member share the responsibilities can really come in handy. Finding small ways to get help with household responsibilities can bring great relief. For example:
- Hiring a part-time housekeeper to help with routine cleaning
- Getting help with yard upkeep
- Hiring someone to take care of dog walking duties to help keep the dog well-exercised and active
In between doctor visits and caring for your loved one, it might seem that there is not enough time in the world, but don’t neglect your activities. It is important to keep some semblance of independence for yourself and maintain activities that you enjoy and that get you out of the house on occasion.
In addition, do not neglect your:
- Nutrition and exercise
- Social life
- Doctor visits
You can also find activities that you and your loved one can do together and cater them to their abilities and interests. Studies have found that this helps Alzheimer’s patients remain calmer and sustain a greater quality of life.
It is no secret that our canine companions have proven to be more than just company; they have healing powers. For example, National Geographic reported that a group of comfort golden retrievers helped survivors of a deeply traumatic event. The story claims that simply petting a dog is an effective form of comfort by decreasing levels of stress hormones, regulating breathing, and lowering blood pressure. If your role as a caregiver has you feeling down, stressed, and overwhelmed, consider spending time with your dog as a way to cope with difficult times. The healing powers of our furry friends have proven to fend off feelings of depression and worry.
If you are a caregiver, celebrate National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month by giving yourself a treat and acknowledging the difficult and indispensable work you do. Recognize that there is no easy scenario and that what you go through matters too.
Photo Credit: Pixabay
Guest Contributor: Beverly Nelson is the creator of Stand Up For Caregivers, which aims to help protect and advocate for the health and well-being of adult caregivers.