Coping with a loved one affected by Alzheimer’s can be difficult enough, but being the primary caregiver at the same time can be even more stressful and emotional.
As the disease progresses, challenges continue to arise, such as your loved one not recognizing you or others who played a large role in their life. The struggle to remember things worsens, especially short-term events. You constantly have to repeat and remind and be their memory. This can be extremely tiring and frustrating for caregivers.
It is vitally important to take care of yourself so that you can stay healthy and strong for your loved one. One of the best ways to do that is to participate in a caregiver’s support group that specializes in helping those coping with the stressors of caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease.
Decades of research and anecdotal evidence prove that finding social support is one of the best ways to help caregivers cope over time. This is especially true if you are feeling misunderstood or underappreciated by family members because you can find comfort in the like-minded members of a support group.
Barry J. Jacobs, a clinical psychologist, family therapist, and member of the AARP Caregiver Expert Panel, recently co-authored a book with psychologist Julia L. Mayer, entitled AARP Meditations for Caregivers (Da Capo, July 2016). In it they suggest that support groups can be extremely beneficial for four main reasons:
Vent and validate – “You may find that having the chance to vent is what’s most helpful to you. Or you may look to the group members’ feedback to validate your emotional reactions — including through laughter, when your frustrations or anecdotes strike a chord (laughter is a wonderful tension reliever).”
Share and compare – “At many group gatherings, caregivers talk shop, offering useful information and opinions about hospitals and physicians, medications and treatments, home health agencies and equipment manufacturers. You can ask for specific advice from the other group members, and consider telling them details about your caregiving story and practical knowledge that might be helpful.
Unite and advocate – “Caregivers become absorbed in daily routines and forget that others face similar struggles. It can be a relief to hear your fellow caregivers’ experiences and learn that you are not alone. Also become more aware that many aspects of caregiving — such as underfunding for research and treatments, negligent family members, balky insurers — are patently unfair. Support group members can feel camaraderie and power when they work together to try to right these wrongs. Organize your group to walk to raise money for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s or other diseases; write letters to insurers urging them to pay for experimental drugs; or call legislative offices to advocate for more governmental support of basic research.”
Find Community – “We find support and identity through our affiliations with small groups — be they stamp-collecting clubs, bowling teams or church choirs. Caregivers, too, need a sense of belonging. This can come from family members who work shoulder-to-shoulder with you on your caregiving team. But it’s also often helpful to speak with a more objective audience.”
Kenneth Robbins, M.D., senior medical editor at caring.com, offers some positive advice for caregivers who are going through the emotional rollercoaster of caring for someone Alzheimer’s:
“As this disease progresses, it becomes increasingly difficult to remember the past or anticipate the future, so one must live in the moment. This can actually be a gift, as long as there are enjoyable and meaningful moments. It may give you some solace if your parents are able to remain comfortable.”
Dr. Robbins recognizes that caregivers still need assistance with their grieving and suggests making sure you take care of yourself first so you can relieve your own stress in order to ensure you are emotionally and physically strong enough to care for your loved one. Some suggestions for daily self-care include:
- Exercise regularly.
- Keep a consistent sleep schedule.
- Avoid alcohol and other mood altering drugs.
- Do your best to follow your usual routine.
- Keep in touch with your social supports.
- Spend some time each day with activities you usually enjoy – maybe not to the extent you have in the past, but they can still provide you some relief.
- If you have siblings, a significant other or other close relatives, they are likely struggling as well, and this is a time to try to reach out and do your best to support each other.
- If you participate in an organized religion, this is a time where clergy can provide you comfort.
Bayshore Memory Care can help
Bayshore Memory Care, a senior living community in Naples, Fla., is entirely focused on providing research-driven memory care in an elegant setting free of cookie-cutter or institutional mentality. Our residents benefit from best-in-class techniques and technologies from highly-skilled care providers in a specially designed setting. Staff receives ongoing training in the latest techniques for caring for those with memory impairment.
Bayshore’s unique Heartfelt Connections–A Memory Care Program® is designed to establish the best quality of life for each resident. With memory loss, we understand that what remains is far more important than what is lost. That is why our goal is to create normalcy for your loved one by capturing their unique life story and determining their unique 24-hour routine. The result is an individualized plan of care that provides confidence, calm, self-esteem and self-worth.
Additionally, Bayshore offers support groups for caregivers of residents with Alzheimer’s. For more information regarding the services offered at Bayshore, visit our Contact Us page, or call 239-213-9370.