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Support for Alzheimer's Disease Caregivers

Patient care isn't particularly complicated, but caregivers looking after someone with Alzheimer's undergo a variety of life changes as the people they love slowly deteriorate. There's sometimes a stigma attached to a person battling Alzheimer's that caregivers sometimes give in to, opting to protect their loved one from strangers or handle everything on their own. There's also a feeling of abandonment that some caregivers experience when leaving their loved one in the care of professionals-even for a short period of time.

A 2012 study found that nearly half of all unpaid caregivers for Alzheimer's patients are under the age of 50 and as many as 68% are children, children-in-law or grandchildren. That means the majority of unpaid caregivers are not yet retired, often have full-time jobs and many have families of their own, putting enormous stress on themselves when taking care of a loved one.

Caregivers should know that a number of support options are available to help with everything from understanding how to care for their loved one to helping with everyday tasks like shopping for groceries, preparing meals and picking up prescriptions.

Caregivers of patients with Alzheimer's should understand that they need to take care of themselves as well and understand their own physical and emotional limits. Know what help is available, what these resources can do and when to ask for assistance. Beaumont offers resources and support to help with our Coping With Dementia, an individually designed program to meet the needs of the patient and caregiver living with dementia.

Initial Alzheimer's Caregiver Information and Support

One of the first steps for caregivers dealing with Alzheimer's is to reach out to professionals for information and support. A diagnosis of Alzheimer's can be overwhelming and caregivers often feel alone with the burden. Research shows that caregivers suffer increased risk of depression and illness, especially if they don't get adequate support themselves.

The  Area Agency on Aging 1-B has a number of resources for caregivers, including an information and assistance line at 800-852-7795. They have a number of locations in Michigan, with the central office located in Southfield. The Area Agency on Aging provides a wealth of resources and information and thousands of resources for caregivers and their ailing loved ones, while also helping to advocate on issues concerning older adults, people with disabilities and family caregivers.

The  Alzheimer's Association has a website dedicated to caregivers along with a 24-hour helpline at 800-272-3900. Their mission is not only to eliminate Alzheimer's through research, but to provide and enhance care and support for those affected, which includes caregivers. The Alzheimer's Association has a number of chapters in Michigan, including one in Southfield.

Financial and Legal Planning

One of the most stressful aspects of looking after someone with Alzheimer's are the financial costs associated with full-time or part-time care. The Agency on Aging has trained staff that can help caregivers navigate Medicare and Medicaid assistance programs to determine what kind of financial help is available for prescription drugs or short-term and long-term assistance.

The Alzheimer's Association also offers a number of financial and legal planning options that cover planning for care, paying for care, insurance, Medicare, Medicaid and getting the patient's legal house in order while they can still be involved and express their wishes for future care and decisions. Putting financial and legal plans in place early will help caregivers and their loved ones understand how to pay for care and create a shared roadmap for the years ahead.

Ongoing Care Support

Alzheimer's is a slow and steady disease and caregivers need to utilize all the support, resources and information they can to stay strong and healthy themselves. The Alzheimer's Association, Agency of Aging and National Institute on Aging all have resources on how to handle day-to-day tasks that become more difficult with the onset of Alzheimer's. Tips on bathing, dressing, eating, exercising, sleep problems, driving, incontinence, home safety, wandering and delusions give caregivers some of the tools to deal with the new reality of caring for someone with Alzheimer's. Each group also helps with more complex topics such as choosing appropriate care and services like assisted living or daily chore services. Support on how to choose the level of service for your loved one and how to evaluate care facilities and nursing homes is all available.

There are a number of other national agencies that offer resources to help family caregivers through each stage of dealing with Alzheimer's and their loved ones.

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