Alzheimerʼs disease (AD) is defined as an irreversible, progressive brain disorder that causes abnormal changes in the brain, mainly affecting memory and other mental abilities. AD slowly destroys memory and thinking skills, and eventually, the ability to carry out simple daily tasks. As the disease progresses, the person diagnosed loses the ability to reason and make decisions, and has difficulty with language, judgment, and other critical skills.
As a result, most people who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease need caregivers to assume their day-to-day responsibilities. In fact, nearly 15 million Americans provide unpaid care to a person living with AD or another dementia (Alzheimerʼs Association 2011 Facts & Figures). If you are one of these caregivers, or know someone who is, it’s important to take care of yourself, too.
Here are some ways to help you cope with caregiving duties:
- Educate Yourself – The more you know about Alzheimer’s Disease and its progression, the easier it will be to cope with the changes in your loved one. It is most important to remember that the disease is not the person. Nothing they do is a personal attack against you. Rather, it is the disease exhibiting its progression.
- Find Emotional Support – As a caregiver, you should find appropriate emotional support through counseling, a support group, or other family members. Your needs will grow and change as your caregiving role and the emotional challenges change.
- Keep Everyone Safe – Providing a safe and comfortable home environment is important. Consult a professional who is experienced in home modification and assistive devices. Preventing falls protects both the recipient and the caregiver from harm.
- Plan Financial Needs – AD can be a costly disease. Therefore, planning ahead helps meet the increasing financial demands. Review the senior’s insurance policies to see if they cover long-term care or custodial care. Be aware that Medicare does not pay for these services. Medicaid, however, does provide coverage for those who qualify.
- Complete Legal Matters – The day will soon come when the person with AD can no longer make decisions about their own financial and medical care. Waiting until the disease progresses will be too late. You must put powers of attorney for health care and property into place early on while the senior is still capable of signing legal documents
- Assume Medical Care – As the disease progresses and the senior is unable to communicate their problems to their physician, that responsibility falls on you, the caregiver. Therefore, it is important to have a release of information in their medical chart so you can communication directly with the physician. You will become a team member in the patient’s ongoing care.
- Involve Respite Care – Being a caregiver can be exhausting. One way to get some relief is through Respite care. Respite care includes in-home help from another family member, neighbor, friend, hired caregiver, or volunteer caregiver, or out-of-home help such as adult day care or a short stay in an assisted care facility. Don’t try to help your loved ones on your own. To keep yourself healthy, reach out to others for help.
Alzheimer’s disease challenges both the person diagnosed and the caregiver. As the disease progresses in the patient, the stress of responsibility can seriously affect the caregiver also. Know your limits and ask for help when needed.
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