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Wayne State University

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Nov 13 / Theresa Russo

November is National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month and National Caregiver Month

The prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease today is unprecedented in human history. Presently, more than 5 million Americans have a diagnosis. In Michigan alone, roughly 180,000 individuals are living with memory loss. Approximately every 68 seconds, someone develops the disease. By 2050, the numbers are projected to increase to between 11 and 15 million nationwide. Alzheimer’s disease is the 6th leading cause of death in the U.S., and it is the only cause among the top 10 that cannot be prevented, slowed, or cured.

The cost of Alzheimer’s disease is high. This year in the United States, we will spend more than $200 billion caring for people  with Alzheimer’s or another dementia. Unfortunately, family caregivers are absorbing a majority of this burden. In fact, in 2012 15.4 million caregivers provided an estimated 17.5 billion hours of unpaid care, valued at more than $216 billion, in the United States.

alz pie chart

Family members are often the front line of Alzheimer’s care, but they may lack the appropriate support, resources, or education needed to execute their job effectively. Caregiving can be extremely taxing work, and dementia caregivers are particularly at risk for burnout, distress, and other negative outcomes. Research indicates that dementia caregivers have poorer physical, mental, and financial well-being, than their non-caregiving counterparts.  Caregivers are also more likely to experience depression, anxiety, reduced immune function, increased incidence of disease and mortality,  as well as disruptions in employment and depleted incomes.

November is “National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month” and “National Caregiver Month”. If you know someone who is a caregiver, show them your support and offer respite. Learn more about this special month and pay tribute to a caregiver here.

If you are a caregiver for someone with Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia, consider following these 10 tips to being a healthier caregiver:

1. Understand what’s going on as early as possible.

Symptoms of Alzheimer’s may appear gradually. It can be easy to explain away changing or unusual behavior when a loved one seems physically healthy. Instead, consult a doctor when you see changes in memory, mood or behavior. Don’t delay; some symptoms are treatable.

2. Know what community resources are available.

Contact your local Alzheimer’s Association office. The staff can help you find Alzheimer’s care resources in your community. Adult day programs, in-home assistance, visiting nurses and meal delivery are just some of the services that can help you manage daily tasks.

3. Become an educated caregiver.

As the disease progresses, new caregiving skills may be necessary. The Alzheimer’s Association offers programs to help you better understand and cope with the behaviors and personality changes that often accompany Alzheimer’s.

4. Get help.

Trying to do everything by yourself will leave you exhausted. Seek the support of family, friends, and community resources. Tell others exactly what they can do to help. The Alzheimer’s Association 24/7 Helpline, online message boards and local support groups are good sources of comfort and reassurance. If stress becomes overwhelming, seek professional help.

5. Take care of yourself.

Watch your diet, exercise and get plenty of rest. Making sure that you stay healthy will help you be a better caregiver.

6. Manage your level of stress.

Stress can cause physical problems (blurred vision, stomach irritation, high blood pressure) and changes in behavior (irritability, lack of concentration, change in appetite). Note your symptoms. Use relaxation techniques that work for you, and talk to your doctor.

7. Accept changes as they occur.

People with Alzheimer’s change and so do their needs. They may require care beyond what you can provide on your own. Becoming aware of community resources — from home care services to residential care — should make the transition easier. So will the support and assistance of those around you.

8. Make legal and financial plans.

Plan ahead. Consult a professional to discuss legal and financial issues including advance directives, wills, estate planning, housing issues and long-term care planning. Involve the person with Alzheimer’s and family members whenever possible.

9. Give yourself credit, not guilt.

Know that the care you provide does make a difference and you are doing the best you can. You may feel guilty because you can’t do more, but individual care needs changes as Alzheimer’s progresses. You can’t promise how care will be delivered, but you can make sure that the person with Alzheimer’s is well cared for and safe.

10. Visit your doctor regularly.

Take time to get regular checkups, and be aware of what your body is telling you. Pay attention to any exhaustion, stress, sleeplessness or changes in appetite or behavior. Ignoring symptoms can cause your physical and mental health to decline.

References

2013 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures

Take Care of Yourself Alzheimer’s Association brochure

www.alz.org

www.alz.org/gmc

www/alz.org/care

 

 

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