Caregivers and Respite Help

Caregivers and Respite Help

Caregivers and Respite HelpBeing a caregiver to someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s can be extremely rewarding, but it can also be extremely stressful.  However, many caregivers are hesitant to admit they need help.  Often, the caregivers of an elderly parent or spouse hide their depression, frustration, and feelings of being overwhelmed.  It doesn’t have to be this way.

It is normal to want to take care of a loved one, yet still have a sense of exhaustion and the need to take a break.  This doesn’t indicate failure or lack of commitment to a loved one’s care and well-being.  In fact, it’s just the opposite.  It means the caregiver is human.  Nobody can do everything, for everyone, all the time.  If caregivers don’t take the time for themselves, then they will not have the energy, positive attitude, or mental and physical strength to take care of their parent or spouse suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia.

Caregivers need to acknowledge the stress and pressure they are experiencing.  Watching the decline of a loved one is heartbreaking.  It brings with it a wide range of emotions: denial, helplessness, anger, grief.  In addition, caregivers have other personal, career, and financial responsibilities that come with everyday life.  This all adds up to a potentially unhealthy situation.

It is important to recognize the signs that a caregiver is overwhelmed.  Some common issues that caregivers face are:

  • Constant feeling of being tired
  • Prolonged feelings of sadness
  • No desire to do things once enjoyed (i.e., hobbies, socializing, exercising)
  • Problems controlling emotions
  • Change in sleep patterns; not enough or too much
  • Change in eating habits and weight loss/gain
  • Physical ailments such as stomach aches, headaches, muscle pain, rundown, colds
  • Feelings of guilt and helplessness

If a caregiver to someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia is feeling any of these issues consistently or for an extended period, they should consult their doctor.  Depression and anxiety are common side effects of caregiving and can have a very real impact on their emotional and physical health.

One of the most important things an Alzheimer’s and dementia caregiver can do is to ask for respite help.  Friends and family can be a tremendous resource.  However, if they don’t have experience caring for someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia, they often don’t realize how overwhelming the situation can be.  Caregivers should explain the type of help they need.   Maybe it’s doing the grocery shopping or asking for an afternoon “off” so they can go to a movie and clear their head.  Or maybe a cup of coffee and a chat would be much appreciated.  Whatever the “ask” may be, most people will help.

When things get more difficult and medical supervision is needed, or the time a loved one needs to be watched is longer than an afternoon, professional respite care can be a tremendous resource.   There are facilities that will accept an Alzheimer’s or dementia patient for the afternoon, weekend, or even longer.  This option offers real peace-of-mind to caregivers who must travel for work, have an emergency with other family members, or need a well-deserved, guilt-free vacation.

Admitting an elderly parent or spouse on a short-term basis is also a good way to “test the waters” for a long-term stay that may be inevitable.  Becoming familiar with new surroundings and people on an incremental basis, can help in the transition of a loved one into a long-term stay situation.

Another option is professional in-home respite care.  In this scenario, a trained professional will come to the Alzheimer’s or dementia patient’s home and provide excellent medical care and supervision.  Their stay can vary based on the needs of the caregiver and the patient.  This option is good for those individuals who would not do well in a group setting.

Respite care, whether from family and friends or professionals, is an essential aspect of caregiving.  Caregivers need to understand the need for help and not be afraid to ask for it.  It will keep them healthier emotionally and physically and better able to take care of their loved one suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia.

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