Mar 29, 2012

How Do We Reduce Caregiver Stress?

How do we do this?

By Mal Ernst

My wife currently is in the moderate stage of Alzheimer’s, so I have given a lot of thought to caregiver stress, and how best to alleviate it.

Clearly, to me, it seems that family involvement is crucial, if possible; but my daughters live a long way away. Therefore, they can only witness the day-to-day problems about once a year, and then it is in more of a vacation setting, rather than a day-to-day, real- life living.

Because of this, I find it hard to communicate with them as to the problems and stresses of her real life situation, and thus the importance of family support.

I am reluctant to impose myself too strongly on my daughters because they have their own problems and stresses.

I would appreciate any suggestions that anyone might have to enhance family communications, as well how a far-removed family can best provide reasonable support.

I would also appreciate any comments on the following.

I have wondered why it is, based on my readings, that family support and respite care seem to be much more important for the dementia patient caregiver than for the caregivers of patients with most other types of diseases, and I have concluded that perhaps it is because of the nature of the disease. Perhaps it is because the dementia patient does not have the ability to provide much, if any, reverse support to the caregiver, so the caregiver is pretty much left alone.

For example, the foundation of a marriage that has been strong for many decades usually is solidly built and stabilized upon many legs; e.g., physical satisfaction, good intellectual discourse, satisfied emotional needs, similar standards of morality, common religious beliefs, acceptable goals, and general compatibility among the many other things in life. If one spouse becomes ill with a life-ending disease, such as cancer, the disease will usually seriously impact only one or two of those foundation legs of the marriage; e.g., the physical aspect. This means that the couple can still communicate and bond in all the other aspects (at least until the very end-stage of the disease), which actually provides some needed support to the caregiver as well as to the patient.

However, in the case of the dementia patient, several of those more important legs (i.e., at the very least the physical, intellectual, and emotional legs) are seriously weakened or destroyed rather early on, and all the legs are eventually destroyed well before the disease finally runs its course, so there is less and less reverse support for the caregiver.

Also, a disease such as cancer will usually run its course in the matter of months, rather than the years of decline for the dementia patient; therefore, the caregiver’s task is of much longer duration.

Since this is a first time for most of us as dementia patient caregivers, we really do need an explicit, tested, and proven stress-reduction game plan; learning by experience is not really a good option.

Thank goodness for the insights of the Alzheimer’s Reading Room, but I think we need an even stronger, hands-on focus on this particular subject.

How do we do this?
Mal is 82; born January 20, 1930. Dean, his wife of 41 years, is 85; she was first diagnosed with Alzheimer’s 3-1/2 years ago. He retired from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 1989 and has since consulted for the nuclear power industry, sold residential real estate, been President of several homeowners Associations, and been active in managing activities at several member-owned country clubs. He plays some golf, bowls, and enjoys some yard work; and they still travel and enjoy eating out.

Original content the Alzheimer's Reading Room

The goal of the Alzheimer's Reading Room is to Educate and Empower Alzheimer's caregivers, their families, and the entire Alzheimer's community.

At its core the Alzheimer's Reading Room is about helping members of the Alzheimer's Community understand, cope, and communicate with persons living with Alzheimer's and related dementia.