Jun 11, 2017

5 Good Ways to Support an Alzheimer’s Caregiver

Caregivers experience significant amounts of physical, emotional and financial stress. Those caring for someone with Alzheimer’s face even more emotional stress than other caregivers.

Caregivers experience significant amounts of physical, emotional and financial stress. Those caring for someone with Alzheimer’s face even more emotional stress than other caregivers.

According to an article on Womenshealth,

“Caregivers of people with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia are more likely to have health problems and to be depressed than caregivers of people with conditions that do not require constant care.”

By Marie Marley
Alzheimer's Reading Room

One of the numerous causes of stress is that caregivers often feel they should be able do everything themselves. Some won’t ask for help, and many reject all offers of assistance.

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An article entitled “5 Ways to Help the Caregiver in Your Life” published on Caregivers.com, states that
“Most caregivers don’t want to be a bother or appear the least bit needy, so even when people willingly offer, caregivers have a natural tendency to smile and politely decline.” 
As a result, the caregiver becomes isolated and especially susceptible to burnout. Friends and relatives of caregivers often want to help, but usually just don’t know what to say or do.

Here are some tips for supporting a loved one who is an Alzheimer’s caregiver:

1. Offer to help with a specific task or tasks on a weekly basis,
2. Be persistent,
3. Listen very carefully to the caregiver,
4. Don’t try to fix the situation,
5. Watch your language.

Let’s look at each one in more detail:

1. Offer to Help With a Specific Task or Tasks on a Weekly Basis

First of all, don’t say “Let me know if I can do anything to help” or “Call me if you need anything.” These statements force the caregiver to request help, something many are not willing to do.

The best thing is to assess the situation and then offer to help with one or more specific tasks. For example, you might say, “I’d like to stay with your loved one for a half day each week so you can get some respite” Or, "May I mow your lawn every week?”

It will be very helpful to offer your assistance every week. Marty Schreiber, a former governor of Wisconsin who is in his 12th year of caring for his wife (who has Alzheimer’s), told me in an interview that unlike the situation when a loved one has passed away and you take food to them, “Alzheimer’s is not a one-casserole illness.”

2. Be Persistent

Since many caregivers feel they should be able to do it all by themselves, you may well encounter resistance when you offer to help.

The Mayo Clinic in an article entitled “Alzheimer’s: How to Help a Caregiver,” says that “If your offers of help aren’t accepted, be gently persistent.”

3. Listen Very Carefully to the Caregiver

Listening to the person —really listening—is one of the best ways to provide support. Dianne Schilling, writing on Forbes.com, discusses 10 steps to effective listening:
  1. Face the speaker and maintain eye contact.
  2. Be attentive, but relaxed
  3. Keep an open mind
  4. Listen to the words and try to picture what the speaker is saying
  5. Don’t interrupt and don’t impose your “solutions”
  6. Wait for the speaker to pause to ask clarifying questions
  7. Ask questions only to ensure understanding
  8. Try to feel what the speaker is feeling
  9. Give the speaker regular feedback
  10. Pay attention to what isn’t said—to nonverbal cues
Consult the article for a discussion of each of these.

4. Don’t Try to Fix the Problem

This advice, which applies equally for listening to people with any problem, is especially important. This is because people with a problem typically just want to be heard.

So listen carefully and acknowledge how the person is feeling.

5. Watch Your Language

Don’t Say “What a Shame” When the Person Passes Away
Saying it’s a shame tends to diminish the person with the illness, which can upset the caregiver. It’s best not to say this unless you're sure the loved one feels the same way.

Don’t Say "It's a Blessing" When the Person Passes Away
Some caregivers may be deep in the clutches of grief and may be devastated that the person died, no matter how advanced their state of disease was. Saying it's a blessing would tend to minimize their grief.

Don’t Say “He/She Is in a Better Place
This, too, tends to minimize the person’s grief. Besides, the caregiver may not believe in an afterlife. You might acknowledge the death by simply saying, "I'm sorry for your loss." Thus, you've acknowledged their grief and shown your regret at their loss.

Note: If you are an Alzheimer’s caregiver, you may want to forward this article to friends, neighbors and family members. You can also share it on Facebook by using the social share button on the left.

Marie Marley is the award-winning author of ‘Come Back Early Today: A Memoir of Love, Alzheimer’s and Joy.’ Caregivers say it helped them a lot, and former caregivers say they wish they’d had it when they were caregivers. She is also co-author (with Daniel C. Potts, MD, FAAN) of 'Finding Joy in Alzheimer’s: New Hope for Caregivers'. Her website Come Back Early Today contains a wealth of information for Alzheimer’s caregivers.

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How to Get Answers To Your Questions About Alzheimer's and Dementia

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