When Caring for Alzheimer’s Overwhelms You

A Growing Crisis

More than four and a half million people in the United States are affected by Alzheimer's disease (AD), a degenerative condition that causes confusion, personality changes, and impaired judgment. As people today live longer and longer, the chances that you or someone you love will be affected by Alzheimer's (or a related memory disorder) are increasing greatly.

Better Alternatives than Home

Alzheimer's is a degenerative condition. As its effects become more severe, they can make it impractical, even unsafe, for the person with the disease to remain at home. The good news is that there are senior care communities in our area designed to support and care for people with Alzheimer's. The best ones can help your loved one experience the highest quality of life and dignity possible, but not all of them are the same.

Know What to Look For

Finding the right senior care community for someone with Alzheimer's is simply a matter of knowing what to look for. There are four key areas to consider: 1. Program 2. Staffing 3. Building Design and 4. Family Support. An ideal assisted living community for someone with Alzheimer's blends all four components into a seamless support system that cares equally well for both residents and their families.

Program, Staffing, and Building Design

Program, staffing, and building design can all be evaluated during a simple visit to the community. The best communities for Alzheimer's residents have programs with structured daily routines, from activities to mealtimes, that reduce stress and limit confusion. Staff members should be thoroughly trained in dementia care. And finally, quality Alzheimer's communities have short corridors (not long hallways!) that are color-coded or visually cued to help commu-nity members find their way around independently. Residents should also have access to outdoor areas that are enclosed and secure.

Family Support

Because families of Alzheimer's patients are often unprepared for the personality changes that can accompany dementia, trained staff should be available to provide support to family members as well as care for residents. Staff members at quality Alzheimer's communities strive to understand the needs and frustrations of both their residents and their residents' families. And they do a great job of taking care of both!

Give Yourself a Break: Take Advantage of “Respite Care”

If you are a primary caregiver for someone with Alzheimer's, but have not yet sought the support of a senior care community, please know that most communities offer something called “Respite Care.” Caring for a family member with Alzheimer's Disease can make it difficult to rest or spend practical time away from home for shopping, appointments, or vacations. Respite Care allows caregivers to temporarily (a day, a week, a month) entrust their loved one to the care and support of a community designed specifically to meet the needs of people with Alzheimer's. The cost is usually similar to that of a hotel stay, and the benefits for the caregiver include rest, renewed energy, and restored peace of mind.

Additional Coping Strategies for Caregivers

No matter what you decide, whether you seek the support of a senior care community or want to handle the caregiving on your own, I hope the suggestions below help you cope better with the daily stress common to caregivers of Alzheimer's patients.

  1. Have a daily plan. It will help you organize the day and give your loved one a sense of stability.
  2. Identify family, friends, and community resources that can help.
  3. Seek financial and legal advice. Planning now will avoid making rushed decisions when there is a crisis.
  4. Take care of yourself. Know what you can and cannot do. Accept and ask for help.
  5. Talk with a friend or attend a support group to help meet your emotional needs.