Caring for someone suffering from Alzheimer’s is a full-time job. Whether the person caring is a loved one or a professional caregiver, the everyday duties of caregiving require someone with a lot of patience and a big heart. As November is National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month, it is important to understand what a caregiver’s daily journey is like as they guide seniors through a difficult time for them and their families.
Who Are the Caregivers?
Becoming a caregiver is often something that no one expects to happen to them, and they often only end up taking on the role out of necessity. Five million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s every year; they are assisted by 15 million unpaid caregivers, mostly family members, who account for 18.2 billion hours of care. Becoming a caregiver to a senior loved one is rarely a choice.
A Caregiver at Home
Being thrust into an Alzheimer’s caregiving situation means a caregiver must examine and be prepared to change many aspects of his or her life. The first place to look to make a change is your senior loved one’s home. As Alzheimer’s disease runs its course, items around the house that we take for granted as being safe suddenly become dangerous. Making a home Alzheimer’s safe is an important first step in the caregiving process.
The idea is to simplify the home. Clutter is unnecessary and can be a hazard — so too is excess furniture. Your loved one should be able to move around freely, openly and without hazard. This may mean installing handrails both inside and outside the home as well as modifying the bathroom to make bathing easier and safer. Other modifications to consider are safety knobs and automatic switches on the stove, child-safe electrical outlets, and posting emergency contact numbers visibly throughout the home. Removing dangerous items such as chemicals, guns and scissors as well as any machinery should also be a priority. The home of someone suffering some Alzheimer’s should be a safe home.
The Daily Life of a Caregiver
Caregiving means waking up early before your loved one and being prepared to get them out of bed and start the day off right. The four most important aspects of every caregiver’s day are hygiene, health, diet, and exercise for the loved one.
At some point during the Alzheimer’s journey, loved ones will need help with basic daily tasks we take for granted such as bathing, brushing their teeth and getting dressed. The transition to this type of caregiving is difficult for both you and your loved one. Sometimes, senior loved ones may be embarrassed or even angry when it comes to you helping them in their showering routine. Caregivers must be patient and try to keep their routine similar to what they are used to as possible. Be direct and explain everything you are doing, every step of the way. Try not to argue, and speak in a very calm voice.
The most important thing when it comes to bathing your senior loved one is safety. Never leave your senior loved one in the bathroom or shower alone. Check the water temperature before they go in. Use a rubber bath mat and safety bars in the tub as well as a sturdy shower chair if need be. If there is something during the bathing process that they would prefer to do themselves, allow them to (if they are capable of it) but make sure you supervise at all times. Their dignity is important to them.
Dressing a loved one with Alzheimer’s can also be a challenge. Let your loved one dress themselves for as long as possible, though they will need more time to get ready in the morning. Use this time to make sure that they are choosing weather-appropriate attire. If your loved one is having trouble choosing their clothes, you may have to choose items for them. Place clothing items in the order that they need to be put on and give dressing instructions verbally if necessary.
Caregivers need to make sure their loved ones take the proper doses of their medication, keeping track of when prescriptions run out and making sure they renew them on time. Caregivers must also be in charge of scheduling and maintaining appointments with the doctor. Since a caregiver is the main conduit between a doctor and the patient, is it important that a caregiver attend every appointment and asks the doctor plenty of questions.
The health of a loved one with Alzheimer’s can be dependent on their overall diet. A caregiver must take charge of the food shopping and prepare healthy meals. Often, those suffering from Alzheimer’s may ask for alternative food items. Try to listen to their needs but do not give into their want for junk food. Stick to the routine of meals. Remind your loved one when mealtime is, and never skip a meal. Before serving a meal, always check to make sure the temperature of the food is not too hot or too cold.
A healthy dose of exercise just an important as a healthy diet for someone suffering from Alzheimer’s. It is a caregiver’s job to make sure their loved ones suffering from Alzheimer’s stay in shape. Being active helps muscles, joints and the heart stay fit while keeping a person at a healthy weight. Exercise also promotes regular toilet habits as well as regular sleep patterns. Working out does not have to be, and frankly should not be, strenuous. A daily walk around the neighborhood or use of a stationary bike and treadmill under supervision are perfect ways to break a sweat and keep the body in top shape. Make sure to keep you and your loved one hydrated while exercising and throughout the day as well.
The Challenges of Being a Caregiver
There are many challenges that come with being a caregiver, emotionally, financially and personally. Emotionally, it is hard for anyone to see someone they love and respected for years suffer from Alzheimer’s. Being a caregiver is a serious job, one that often has to be juggled with other responsibilities in life such as a job and a family. Seeing your loved so confused can make you feel helpless, even when you are doing so much to help. Financially, being a caregiver can be a huge burden. Rarely are families prepared for the financial burden of caring for someone with Alzheimer’s. Time spent caregiving may also mean time spent away from your job, which could affect both income and employment status.
The average sufferer of Alzheimer’s lives four to eight years after they have been diagnosed, meaning a caregiver should potentially expect to be in a caregiving situation for that long. Caregiver fatigue is a serious medical issue because of all these factors. About 35% of caregivers reported their health worsening while taking care of their loved ones. Seniors with Alzheimer’s count on their loved ones for even the smallest tasks in their everyday life.
Being healthy as a caregiver is important to your loved one and yourself. If caregivers do find the stress to be too much, the next step maybe considering an assisted living community or in-home care. The peace of mind coming from the burden lifted could help you rebuild your relationship with your loved one and enjoy your final years together.