August 17, 2012
You've noticed the fear in their eyes, the sadness in their voice, and the exhaustion in their half-hearted smile. Alzheimer's disease is certainly a scary reality for patients, but perhaps an even more frightening, tiring and trying experience for their family members—especially those directly involved in the affected individuals' care.
You are a senior care professional most likely because you have a passion for helping people. Now more than ever, you have a tremendous opportunity to help lighten the load that Alzheimer's patients and their families must shoulder.
How Heavy is the Alzheimer's Burden?
According to the 2012 Women and Alzheimer's Disease: The Caregiver's Crisis report, the costs of Alzheimer's care are not only financial; they extend to the caregiver's personal health, family life and career.
- More than a third of surveyed caregivers provide 60+ hours of care each week.
- 48 percent of surveyed caregivers find it difficult to manage the demands of work and personal life.
- Nearly half of survey respondents say they felt overwhelmed, a third felt depressed and 41 percent reported sleep deprivation.
Ways to Lighten the Alzheimer's Care Load
Here are three ways you can make a difference in the life of a family touched by Alzheimer's.
1. Recommend Counseling
Alzheimer's caregivers can significantly benefit from counseling and other support services. According to the results of a 20-year study published in the September 2007 issue of the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, caregivers that received regular counseling and support intervention reported less of a decline in physical health than caregivers that only received information and advice upon request.
Also, the study found that caregivers who receive the support they need are less likely to feel depressed or find it necessary to move their loved one with Alzheimer's into a care facility.
In many cases, the people providing care to their loved ones with Alzheimer's disease struggle to admit they need help or do not know how to go about getting the help they need. Hearing the benefits of support services from a senior care professional like you may be the nudge they need to actively seek help and follow through with the counseling sessions.
You can learn more about the benefits of counseling for Alzheimer's caregivers from the Fisher Center for Alzheimer's Research Foundation, or find local support services through the Alzheimer's Association.
2. Educate and Offer Resources
Something as simple as offering helpful information that may alleviate a caregiver's questions and worries can make a big difference.
HelpForAlzheimersFamilies.com houses a whole host of helpful information and resources specifically designed to make Alzheimer's care a little less overwhelming for family caregivers. Family members can take a free Alzheimer's e-learning course, download a helpful Coping with Alzheimer's Disease and Dementia Guide, or find tips for preserving their loved one's memories.
You can also encourage patients and family members to take part in Remember for Alzheimer's, a thriving Facebook community where over 145,000 people touched by Alzheimer's disease talk about their experiences and give encouragement to one another. According to the Fisher Center for Alzheimer's Research Foundation, social support can be an effective way of protecting the mental and physical health of caregivers.
Check with your local Alzheimer's Association chapter for additional educational or support resources you can offer to patients and their families.
3. Refer Services
More Alzheimer's patients than ever are staying at home, particularly those in the early stages of the disease, and their family caregivers often make extra efforts to keep them at home for as long as possible. Research has shown that for people experiencing memory loss, remaining in the familiar surroundings of home can play an important role in managing the disease.
Familiarize yourself with home care service options in your area, especially those with caregivers who are well-trained and qualified to provide Alzheimer's care, so you can feel confident in your recommendations to patients.
If needed, make a quick trip down to your local Area Agency on Aging to gather brochures and learn about other local options available, including options for patients who struggle to afford the care they need.
If you're able to equip your Alzheimer's patients and families with information that eliminates even just one worry or provides a brief glimpse of insight that may help them plan ahead, you're helping to make their burden that much lighter. Add to that a touch of reassurance delivered through a warm smile, and you'll brighten any family caregiver's day.
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