A vast majority of caregiving–83%–for the older adults in the United States comes from family members or other unpaid caregivers.
Dementia, a debilitating, heartbreaking, and often fatal condition, has reached epidemic levels, especially among the elderly. One in three seniors will die from or suffering from some form of dementia. The nation’s medical and scientific communities have responded to this crisis with historic efforts dedicated to understanding Alzheimer’s disease and other causes of dementia. But there’s a second, related, and underreported emergency accompanying the plague of dementia: the public health implications of the stress and strain on the caregivers for patients with dementia.
A vast majority of caregiving–83%–for the older adults in the United States comes from family members or other unpaid caregivers. Furthermore, fifty percent of caregivers for older adults are dealing with someone with Alzheimer’s or a form of dementia. These caregivers too often sacrifice income, time with their young families, a social life, and even their own health to provide an essential service. If you know someone who is a caregiver to someone with dementia, here are four ways you can help support him or her:
1. Give the caregiver a break: Dementia patients often need constant supervision, making it difficult for a sole caregiver to get to the grocery store, grab a shower, or, most importantly, take care of her own health. Offer to “babysit” the dementia patient once a week or more to give the caregiver a chance to catch up on errands or doctor’s appointments.
2. Work to include the caregiver: When a family member becomes a full-time caregiver, one of the first casualties is his social life. If he is caring for a spouse, the couple’s activities they both once enjoyed are no longer possible, as social situations are often disruptive and frightening to the dementia patient. Don’t just continue to issue invites to a friend in this position; work to help him figure out and afford respite care so he can attend.
3. Listen to the caregiver: A caregiver, especially an unpaid one nursing a beloved and failing family member, undergoes a barrage of conflicting feelings: grief, fear, anger, guilt, and exhaustion. Create a safe space for her to express all this, and make sure she has other outlets by helping her explore national and local support groups and therapy options.
4. Help the caregiver think through next steps: While many family members hope to keep their loved one with dementia at home, the inevitable progress of the disease too often makes that an impossible choice. Monitor the situation in the caregiver’s home and help him realistically understand his ability to keep the dementia patient safe and to maintain his own physical and mental health. Often, at the point the caregiver considers residential care for his loved one, he’s exhausted and at the end of his rope. Help him do the complicated work of sorting through residential care options and finances, calling in expert assistance if need be.
Maybe it’s your best friend, your elderly neighbor, or your parent. At some point, odds are, you will find yourself in the position of being able to, and wanting to, care for a caregiver to a dementia patient. Use these four steps as a guide, and you’ll be well on your way to offering essential support and aid.
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