EDUCATION & RESEARCH A doctor shares critical pieces of information for the millions of caregivers in the United States working to support a loved one with the disease.
There are over 16 million Alzheimer’s caregivers in the United States, providing over $18 billion dollars a year in unpaid assistance. Still, the burden is more than financial. Caregivers face emotional pain, loneliness and a slew of other stressors.
“Educate yourself, learn about the disease, learn about strategies to cope that help other people,” says clinical psychologist Debra L. Cherry, Ph.D., executive vice president of Alzheimer’s Greater Los Angeles.
She offers the following tips for caregivers:
1. Maximize care
Doctor visits for Alzheimer’s patients can be fast — an average of just seven minutes. Call or email in advance to brief the doctor on changes or concerns about the patient.
2. Plan ahead
Alzheimer’s patients often get confused and lose their sense of place, especially if they’re away from home.
“Sixty percent of people do wander off and get lost,” says Dr. Cherry, who urges caregivers to get ID bracelets for Alzheimer patients. MedicAlert offers one free ID bracelet per patient.
3. Prepare for visitors
Warn visitors that the Alzheimer’s patient might not recognize them and may have trouble following the conversation and get agitated. Keep distractions, like TV, to a minimum. Ask a family member to take the patient for a walk.
4. Watch the clock
At night, Alzheimer’s patients may be more confused than they are during the day. That’s called sundowning. Stay calm and reassuring. Turn on lights during the afternoon so it doesn’t get too dark, too soon.
5. Avoid danger on the road
Keep Alzheimer’s patients out of the driver’s seat. Ask the doctor to file a diagnosis of dementia report with the department of motor vehicles. Then, tell the patient not to drive. If they persist, take away the keys, pretend the keys are lost or suggest the car is in the shop.
6. Remember self-care
Caregivers need to take care of themselves too. “If you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t take care of the patient,” says Dr. Cherry, suggesting family and friends give caregivers a day or even a weekend away.