|It is important
to acknowledge the tremendous burden Alzheimer's
disease places on caregivers.
Many patients in the late stages of the disease require round-the-clock
supervision. At the same time, caregivers must juggle their
other responsibilities, possibly including jobs and children
of their own. As a result, caregivers often fall victim to depression
and stress-related disease.
If you suspect that a spouse or parent may have Alzheimer's
disease, the first important step is to arrange for a thorough
medical evaluation. Once Alzheimer's is confirmed, there are
medications available that can help delay or reduce symptoms
of the disease.
The second step is to get educated about the disease. Learn
what to expect and when to expect it. One of the best resources
is the Alzheimer's Association, a nationwide network that provides
education and support for patients and caregivers. Call 1-800-272-3900
or visit www.alz.org to find
a local chapter of the association. (For information on other
associations and resources, visit our website:
www.memorylossonline.com/resources and click on Alzheimer's
Disease.) Local hospitals may also offer educational programs
for caregivers. Arming yourself with information may not change
the course of the disease, but it will help you feel a little
more in control.
Caregivers should then take a third step: realize that help
is available and ask for what you need. Don't feel embarrassed
to tell friends and family if you feel overwhelmed. Let someone
else share the responsibility, or at least lend a hand. Consider
joining a support group
where others in the same situation can exchange ideas and let
you know you're not alone. If you care for an Alzheimer's patient
in your home, make use of "respite services," such
as day programs for Alzheimer's patients that allow caregivers
to take a break-possibly to address their own health needs.
A paid home health aide or even a friend or relative can "cover"
for you one morning a week while you take some time for yourself.
It will always be hard to face Alzheimer's disease, but facing
it from a position of knowledge and support can make it just
a little easier.
Catherine E. Myers
Memory Disorders Project at Rutgers-Newark
Copyright © 2002 Memory Loss and the Brain