Five Tips for Caregivers
Most of the time, caregivers are close relatives—the child or spouse of the patient, for example. This can (and usually does) create an incredibly stressful situation. The caregiver is forced to watch their loved one’s memory deteriorate while simultaneously shouldering the new and unfamiliar responsibilities that come with taking care of someone suffering from Alzheimer’s.
Many people don’t realize how difficult taking care of an Alzheimer’s patient can be, or how important it is for Alzheimer’s patients to receive quality care. The relationship between an Alzheimer’s patient and his or her caregiver is incredibly important. A recent study conducted by John Hopkins University and Utah State University suggests that a close relationship between Alzheimer’s patients and their caregivers can slow the progression of the disease.
The implications of the study are clear—Alzheimer’s patients who are taken care of by their families do better, in the long run, than patients who are handed over to hired caregivers. It also means that caregivers who don’t have a history with the person they care for can contribute to that patient’s overall well-being by working to establish a meaningful relationship. If you are a caregiver, there are a few important things to remember:
1) You Are Not Alone—
Caring for an Alzheimer’s patient is easier to do when you have the full support of a community behind you. If you have a loved one that was only recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, your new responsibilities may seem overwhelming, but there are resources out there designed to help you adjust to your changing living situation.
The Alzheimer’s Association has local chapters in many states, which can be searched here—they provide a plethora of information and resources specifically geared towards caregivers. There are also 24-hour hotlines that caregivers can call, as well as support groups for people with loved ones who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
2) Guilt Gets You Nowhere—
You are making the very best of a bad situation, but there will be days when you will make mistakes. There will be days when you run out of patience or lose your temper. There will be days when it’s everything you can do not to break down and cry. Try and remember that you’re only human—the mistakes you make are the mistakes that all caregivers have made at some point.
Taking care of an Alzheimer’s patient is a full-time job. There’s not always going to be someone around to make sure you’re doing it right. You just have to do the best you can and learn to forgive yourself when you make a mistake.
3) Take Care of Yourself Too—
Too often, caregivers of people with Alzheimer’s get caught up in the needs of the patient and forget to take care of themselves. An exhausted, stressed-out caregiver is always less effective in the long run. Try to schedule yourself some downtime during the day, even if it’s only for a few minutes. Make sure you’re getting eight hours of sleep, when possible.
Remember—taking care of an Alzheimer’s patient doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to say goodbye to your own life. You might be a caregiver, but you’re also a complex human being with needs and emotions that should always be taken into account.
4) Assess Your Environment—
Reduce the number of potential problems you might have to deal with by carefully evaluating your environment. Make sure you invest in a fire extinguisher, along with working smoking detectors. Child-proof your medicine cabinets and make sure that you keep sharp objects like knives and scissors in locked drawers or on high shelves that the patient can’t reach. Problems that can be prevented are problems you don’t have to deal with, so a careful assessment of your environment is a good way to reduce the overall level of stress you have to deal with on a daily basis.
5) Be Flexible—
Part of dealing with Alzheimer’s involves recognizing that the disease progresses inconsistently. There is no way to predict when a patient will have good days and when they will have bad days. For caregivers, this means recognizing that every day has the potential to be different. A person with Alzheimer’s might be lucid and self-aware one day, and then forget his or her own name the next. It’s very common for caregivers to wake up and realize that the strategies and techniques that they’ve been using no longer work, thanks to the progression of the disease. If you remain patient and flexible, the inconsistent nature of the disease will be much easier to handle in the long run.