Friends and family of Alzheimer's caregivers: How can you help?

To the Editor:

My wife has Alzheimer 's disease. She was diagnosed over seven years ago with early onset Alzheimer’s.

When the doctor informed us of his devastating diagnosis, our lives were changed forever. The purpose of this letter is to answer the question "how can I help,” for friends and relatives of people with Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia

It is estimated that 5.1 million Americans may have Alzheimer’s disease. Caring for persons with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia-related diseases is an awesome responsibility and is physically, emotionally, and financially challenging for family members who are thrust into the position of caregivers.

Most are not prepared to deal with what has happened to them. The uncertainty of their situation and what the future holds can cause added stress as they are now charged with the job of taking care of their loved ones.

Therefore, a strong network of family and friends is a vital lifeline for caregivers as they struggle to care for a loved one with this disease.

Currently, my wife is entering the severe stage of her affliction. She needs constant care and cannot be left alone. For a period of time, in the early stages of the disease, I was the sole caregiver. However, as her disease advanced, it became necessary to have other informal (family and friends) and formal (paid staff) assist me.

Fortunately, we have long-term care insurance and I am now able to employ individual caregivers, either through an agency or privately. Also, I am able to use day-care centers to care for her when necessary. There are several centers in the Capital District where the staff is caring, competent, experienced, and does a superb job caring for the needs of those with Alzheimer’s.

Long-term health insurance has eased my burden financially and in many other ways. However, there are less fortunate people, who in their role as caregivers, are struggling to meet the needs of their loved ones and could use some help. This is where friends can step up and make life easier for them.

It has been my experience that one of the most important things you can give a caregiver is time. Caregivers need just a little time to briefly take a breather from their 24/7 job. Caregivers need some respite. Personally, the most useful and valuable assistance I received from friends and my children was time — time away from my responsibility periodically was, and is a lifesaver.

Alzheimer’s care is a round-the-clock job. When you offer to help an Alzheimer’s caregiver, be specific and gently persistent. The Mayo Clinic suggests the following:

Alzheimer' s caregivers need all the support they can get. If you know someone who's caring for a loved one who has Alzheimer’s disease, here 's how to help.

Be specific.

When someone you care about is going through a difficult time, you might say, "Let me know how I can help." It's a nice gesture, but such offers can be difficult to accept, primarily because they 're not specific.

Instead, make concrete offers of help. For example:

I'm going to the grocery store. What can I pick up for you?

I've got a couple of hours free tomorrow afternoon. May I sit in for you while you run few errands or take some time for yourself?

I doubled my meatloaf recipe so that I could share it with you. I brought enough to last you for several meals.

Do you need some laundry done? I can pick it up today and bring it back clean tomorrow.

Does your yard need to be mowed? I'd be happy to take care of it this weekend.

The suggestions by the Mayo Clinic are excellent. In the early stages of my wife 's disease, a friend of mine wanted to do something to be of assistance, but told me he didn’t know what kinds of questions to ask and didn't want to interfere.

My answer to him was, anything he did would be positive and helpful.

For those of you who may not be comfortable caring for a person with Alzheimer’s in a one-on-one situation, just bring along another friend. You may find it much easier with two of you helping.

Also, as mentioned above, there are many specific ways to assist a caregiver. Friends can make a tremendous difference in the well being of an Alzheimer’s caregiver. Get involved.

The time you give will be enormously beneficial and appreciated by your friend.

Robert Lewis

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