Alzheimer’s disease is devastating – not only for the more than 5 million Americans living with the disease, but also for the more than 16 million family and friends serving as caregivers. The caregiving needs for someone living with Alzheimer’s are extensive and increase over time – on average four-eight years following a diagnosis. Many family caregivers juggle competing priorities including work and other family responsibilities. These caregivers are stretched thin. Many are overwhelmed. Most could use help.
Here in Texas there are 1,429,000 family caregivers. During November – National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month and National Family Caregivers Month – the Alzheimer’s Association recognizes and honors Alzheimer’s caregivers and asks all Texas residents to reach out and lend a hand.
Providing help and support to caregivers can be easier than most people think. Even little acts can make a big difference. The Alzheimer’s Association offers these suggestions:
· Learn: Educate yourself about Alzheimer’s disease – its symptoms, its progression and the common challenges facing caregivers. The more you know, the easier it will be to find ways to help.
· Build a Team: Organize family and friends who want to help with caregiving. The Alzheimer’s Association Care Team Calendar is a free, personalized online tool that allows helpers to sign up for specific tasks, such as preparing meals, providing rides or running errands. Users can post items for which assistance is needed.
· Give a Break: Make a standing appointment to give the caregiver a break. Spend time with the person with dementia and allow the caregiver a chance to run errands, go to their own doctor’s appointment, participate in a support group or engage in an activity that helps them recharge. Even one hour could make a big difference in providing the caregiver some relief.
· Check In: Almost two out of every three caregivers said that feeling isolated or alone was a significant challenge in providing care for someone with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. What’s more, half of all caregivers felt like they couldn’t talk to anyone in social settings or work about what they were going through. So start the conversation – a phone call to check in, sending a note, or stopping by for a visit can make a big difference in a caregiver’s day and help them feel supported.
· Tackle the To-Do List: Ask for a list of errands that need to be run – pick up groceries, dry cleaning or even offer to shuttle kids to and from activities. It can be hard for a caregiver to find time to complete these simple tasks outside of the home that we often take for granted.
· Be Specific and Be Flexible: Open-ended offers of support (“call me if you need anything” or “let me know if I can help”) may be well-intended, but are often dismissed. Try making your offer of help or support more specific (“I’m going to the store, what do you need?” or “I have free time this weekend, let me stop over for a couple of hours so you can do what you need to do.”) Don’t get frustrated if your offer of support is not immediately accepted. The family may need time to assess its needs. Continue to let the caregiver know that you are there and ready to help.
· Help for the Holidays: Holiday celebrations are often joyous occasions, but they can be challenging and stressful for families living with Alzheimer’s. Help caregivers around the holidays by offering to help with cooking, cleaning or gift shopping. If a caregiver has traditionally hosted family celebrations, offer your home instead.
· Join the Fight: Honor a person living with the disease and their caregiver by joining the fight against Alzheimer’s. You can volunteer at your local Alzheimer’s Association office, participate in fundraising events such as the Walk to End Alzheimer’s and The Longest Day, advocate for more research funding, or sign up to participate in a clinical study as a healthy volunteer through the Alzheimer’s Association’s Trial Match.
To learn more about Alzheimer’s disease and ways you can support families and people living with the disease, visit www.alz.org.