Patricia Bratianu RN PhD RH-AHG
The thought of having Alzheimer’s disease terrifies most people. It is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. While incurable, much research is being done and several tools are available. If you have a loved one who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, here are some ideas to help you cope.
Learn as much as you can. There are many resources available online, in print, and throughout communities. Check with your health care provider for local resources. The Alzheimer’s Association website is www.alz.org.
Do not “go it alone”. Alzheimer’s disease is nothing to be ashamed of. Caring for a loved one with this chronic illness is exhausting. Ask friends, family, and church members for assistance. Several communities have support groups. Attending meetings may seem like one more thing to do, but it can provide you with benefits that outweigh the difficulty of making care arrangements for the short time that you have to leave your loved one.
Have your loved one get a thorough medical work up. Other conditions mimic Alzheimer’s disease. Treatment for those conditions is different than for Alzheimer’s. Consider using a health care provider who specializes in gerontology or dementia.
Take time for yourself. As Alzheimer’s disease advances, your loved one may become eligible for home health and hospice services. Take advantage of the time and expertise that professional caregivers offer. Respite services and volunteers are available to give you a chance to get away. There is no reason to feel guilty leaving your loved one in the care of another. You need a break for you. If you don’t take care of yourself you will be unable to care for your loved one.
Be kind to yourself. It is normal to have a full range of emotions when caring for a forgetful person who may present challenging behavior. As Alzheimer’s progresses, you may find yourself going through the grieving process. Recognize that your loss is real. Denial, anger, and guilt are common. The Alzheimer’s Association reports that one third of people caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease suffer from depression. Sixty percent of people consider the stress level high or very high. Consider talking with a spiritual advisor.
Prioritize what is important. Simplify your life. If you were up all night with a loved one, you can’t carry on your daily activities well. Have meals in the freezer. Better yet, ask friends and family to prepare some. People generally want to help, but don’t know how.
Talk to family members, a social worker, lawyer or financial advisor to help you manage finances and end of life plans. Finances may be tight due to reduced income, medical costs, and care expenses.
Seek professional help early. Treatments are available that slow the progression of the disease. Programs that provide adult day care and other services often have lengthy admission processes and waiting lists. Be prepared. If you find that a service is not needed, you can always turn it down.
Watching your loved one become a stranger is one of the hardest challenges anyone can face. The fact that you are willing to help your loved one cope with this disease shows that you are compassionate, loving and brave. You do not have to do it alone.