Caring for someone who has Alzheimer's disease can take a toll. You're managing doctor appointments, learning new ways to communicate and behave with your loved one and trying to temper your emotions. You're also grieving the loss of your previous connection. Being a caregiver can be physically, mentally and emotionally draining.
That's why it's important for you to understand what's happening and get the support you need, says Thota Rao, MD, a Franciscan Physician Network psychiatrist who specializes in elderly care in Crawfordsville, Indiana. Here are four things that will help you better care for your loved one:
"Sometimes caregivers want to believe the memory problems or confusion they are seeing in their moms or dads is,related to normal aging," shares Dr. Rao. "Other times, caregivers may get upset when a doctor refers their parent to a psychiatrist for care."
A doctor of neurosciences (a doctor who specializes in disorders of the brain, spine or nerves) typically diagnoses patients with Alzheimer's disease. But when it comes to treating symptoms of dementia (impaired thinking), such as paranoia, hallucinations and aggression, psychiatric care may be necessary.
"That's where I come in," says Dr. Rao. "I point out that Alzheimer's is a disease, not a mental health issue. I'll sit with the family to get a full picture of what life is like for their loved one so I can help both the patient and the caregivers through the disease process."
If you have a loved one with Alzheimer's, it's important to understand how the disease progresses and what care options are available.
“It's shocking for people when their parents don't remember them. That's part of the illness though. When Alzheimer's disease leads to dementia, your parents will have good and bad days," states Dr. Rao. "Medication can help them have more good days and slow the progression of the illness, but it's not a cure."
In addition to providing appropriate medication, a doctor also helps you make decisions about care. "Outpatient support might be enough if your loved one lives with family and has someone who monitors medications," Dr. Rao says. "But if safety becomes an issue, I recommend an extended care facility or that someone be with your loved one all the time."
Signs your loved one needs additional support includes:
Seeing how Alzheimer's disease affects your loved one can make you to feel depressed, says Dr. Rao. That's normal, and also the reason it's essential you get the support you need as a caregiver.
Having your family's help in caring for and discussing what's going on is great, but that's not always an option. In that case, Dr. Rao suggests, going to a local support group where you can not only talk about the stressors and exchange resource information, but also learn that you're not alone in your experiences or frustrations.
Find a caregiver support group near you.
Because Alzheimer's disease is a progressive illness, Dr. Rao recommends planning for the issues that lie ahead.
"I see a lot of families struggling with a full plate of responsibilities – kids, full-time work and caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's disease," says Dr. Rao. "If you're feeling overwhelmed, or constantly worrying about your loved one, it's time to get extra help. There are options like hiring someone to be there while you're away or moving your loved one to an assisted-living facility. And in most cases, you'll eventually need to figure out how you can manage this type of situation."
Other options include adult day care or our senior health and wellness program, which provides nursing-home level care for seniors who prefer to stay in their homes.
If possible, involve other family members in making decisions about your loved one's finances and medical care, too. Dr. Rao suggests your family meet at least on a quarterly basis to review how your loved one is doing. This way, you can make short-term and long-term plans, especially in regards to the safety of your loved one.
Learn about our short-term, in-hospital care for those with Alzheimer’s disease in the Crawfordsville, Indiana, and immediate surrounding areas by calling (765) 364-3175.
For caregiver support groups and help finding appropriate services in other parts of Indiana and South Suburban Chicago, visit Alzheimer’s and Dementia Services of Northern Indiana.