ALBANY — This November, during National Family Caregivers Month, while families across the country are preparing for Thanksgiving, 16 million family members and friends will be caring for someone living with Alzheimer’s. The Alzheimer’s Association is encouraging people to lend a hand to caregivers.
Shonda Bell, an Albany resident, is a caregiver to her mother, who was diagnosed with dementia in 2016. Like many family caregivers, Bell holds a full-time job as a special ed teacher but still has to make time to help her father care for her mother. She sees her mother every day. She cleans, prepares meals, takes care of finances, runs errands — everything that her mother used to do but is now unable to do. She sees her mother declining and is overwhelmed with worry that when the time comes for full-time care, the family may not have the finances. And, of course, this is something that most families that care for someone with Alzheimer’s face.
Like many people with dementia and Alzheiemer’s, the first sign that something was off with Bell’s mom was not memory loss. She was having difficulty with finances and was accusing her husband of “making her pay everything.” In addition, she was repeating herself and sharing the same story over and over. It was when Bell looked into her mother’s finances that she discovered that her mother was being scammed.
How to Help an Alzheimer’s Caregiver
Learn about the disease:♦ Educate yourself about Alzheimer’s disease — its symptoms, its progression and the common challenges facing caregivers. The more you know, the easier it will be to find ways to help. The Alzheimer’s Association has a vast amount of resources and information available at www.alz.org.
Create a care team calendar:♦ The Alzheimer’s Association Care Team Calendar is a free, personalized online tool to organize family and friends who want to help with caregiving. This service makes it easy to share activities and information within the person’s care team. Helpers can sign up for specific tasks, such as preparing meals, providing rides or running errands. Users can post items for which assistance is needed. Visit the Care Team Calendar at www.alz.org/care/alzheimers-dementia-care-calendar.asp.
Offer caregivers a reprieve:♦ Make a standing appointment to give the caregiver a break. Spend time with the person with dementia and allow the caregiver a chance to run errands, go to their own doctor’s appointment, participate in a support group or engage in an activity that helps them recharge. Even one hour could make a big difference in providing the caregiver some relief.
Check in:♦ Almost two out of every three caregivers said that feeling isolated or alone is a significant challenge in providing care for someone with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. What’s more, half of all caregivers felt like they couldn’t talk to anyone in social settings or work about what they were going through. So start the conversation — a phone call to check in, sending a note or stopping by for a visit can make a big difference in a caregiver’s day and help them feel supported.
Run errands:♦ Ask for a list of errands that needs to be run — pick up groceries, dry cleaning or even offer to shuttle kids to and from activities. It can be hard for a caregiver to find time to complete these simple tasks outside of the home that we often take for granted.
Be specific and be flexible:♦ Open-ended offers of support (“call me if you need anything” or “let me know if I can help”) may be well-intended but are often dismissed. Try making your offer of help or support more specific (“I’m going to the store, what do you need?” or “I have free time this weekend, let me stop over for a couple of hours so you can do what you need to do.”) Don’t get frustrated if your offer of support is not immediately accepted. The family may need time to assess its needs. Continue to let the caregiver know that you are there and ready to help.
Make holidays easier:♦ Holiday celebrations are often joyous occasions, but they can be challenging and stressful for families living with Alzheimer’s. Help caregivers around the holidays by offering to help with cooking, cleaning or gift shopping. If a caregiver has traditionally hosted family celebrations, offer your home instead.
Support the Alzheimer’s cause: Honor a person living with the disease and their caregiver by joining the fight against Alzheimer’s. You can volunteer at your local Alzheimer’s Association office, participate in fundraising events such as the Walk to End Alzheimer’s and The Longest Day, advocate for more research funding, or sign up to participate in a clinical study as a healthy volunteer through the Alzheimer’s Association’s Trial Match. Joining the cause can help families facing the disease know that they are not alone in their fight.