November is designated as the month to raise Alzheimer’s awareness and to honor caregivers. I am going to focus on Alzheimer’s caregivers.
Taking care of a person with Alzheimer’s or other dementias is an all-consuming undertaking. In the US, more than 16 million family members and friends provide unpaid care for their loved ones with dementia. They provide 18.4 billion hours of unpaid care at a value of $232 billion. About half of the unpaid caregivers provide care for four or more years. Alzheimer’s disease is called the “long goodbye” for a reason.
The average life expectancy after diagnosis is between eight and ten years, but some people live twenty years or more with the disease. Diagnosis takes an average of 2.8 years. Jim’s diagnosis of an Alzheimer’s type of dementia was the result of the process of elimination. Especially at his age (49) an entire battery of test results were examined for a different cause for his confusion. It was critical that we ruled out treatable conditions: drug interactions, vitamin deficiencies, thyroid problems, depression, and low blood sugar.
The emotional stress of caregiving is pretty much off the charts for 60 percent of the caregivers. This emotion is followed closely by depression. The entire process of caregiving was a ten-year rollercoaster for me. We had good times, keeping our lives as close to normal as possible, followed by crisis after crisis, completing the downward spiral from end stages to the inevitable conclusion.
The object of this article is not to sugarcoat caregiving, but to bring awareness to how difficult it is to care for another person. I had an exceptional amount of family and friends supporting Jim and me. I was in my mid-forties, and that made me wonder—how could an elderly person provide care for a spouse without that support and without the resilience of a younger caregiver?
The long-term commitment of an Alzheimer’s caregiver causes medical problems for the caregiver. I was one of the caregivers guilty of not taking as good of care of myself as I should have. My company required annual health fairs and my test results fell within the heart-attack-waiting-to-happen category. I don’t know if I would have made it through if I hadn’t changed my ways about my own health.
If you are a caregiver, I urge you to take care of yourself from the beginning to the end. Contact the Alzheimer’s Association and join a support group to learn from the experiences of others, to have an opportunity to vent, and increase your circle of friends. Visit www.alz.org for vital information about strategies to help yourself and your loved one.
If you know a caregiver, don’t abandon them. Provide emotional support, include them in fun activities, and let them know that you love them. Help them to the best of your ability to do so.
Caregiving is a marathon, not a sprint. I urge family caregivers to never give up on life and happiness. Find hobbies and social engagements that make you happy, and rid yourself of obligations that add to your stress. Draw on your inner strength and spirituality to help you live life to the fullest.
Copyright © November 2018 by L.S. Fisher