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Family Caregivers: Finding Support and Connection

     

November is National Family Caregivers Month, a time to recognize and honor the valuable work of family caregivers. This year’s theme, identified by the Caregiver Action Network, is Caregiving Around the Clock, highlighting that caregiving can often be a 24-7 job, seven days a week. For most caregivers that means balancing work responsibilities and the needs of other family members along with caregiving responsibilities, often leaving little time for themselves.

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There are nearly 15 million Alzheimer’s and dementia family caregivers in the U.S. Caring for a family member with dementia or thinking or memory problems is challenging and emotionally and physically draining. Caregivers are at increased risk for both mental health and physical health problems. An estimated 17 to 35 percent of family caregivers view their health as fair or poor. About a quarter of people caring for a person with emotional or mental health problems report a decline in their own health after taking on caregiving responsibilities. Six in 10 family caregivers find their situation moderately or highly stressful and an estimated 40 percent of family caregivers of people with dementia experience depression. 1

The Caregiver Action Network provides some tips for family caregivers (10 tips for Family Caregivers).

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Tech support

Technology is increasingly playing a role in all aspects of our lives and caregiving is no exception. For example, technology can improve safety and support communication between caregivers, care recipients and health care professionals. Online programs can provide education and skill-building. However, two recent reviews of technology support for caregiving identified limitations. One concluded there is “promising progress, but a long way to go” and the other noted that “stakeholders frequently rely on everyday technologies re-purposed to meet their needs.” 2,3

Getting Connected

Connecting with others can help remind you that you are not alone and can provide needed outlet for discussion and practical tips for everyday challenges. You can connect with others online, for example through the Alzheimer’s Association Online Caregivers Forum. To find a local support group contact your local Area Agency on Aging or contact your local Alzheimer’s Association chapter. Local faith communities may also have helpful resources.

The Alzheimer’s Association suggests that family members would like you to know:

  • “We need time to adjust to the diagnosis.”
  • “We want to remain connected with others.”
  • “We need time for ourselves.”
  • “We appreciate small gestures.”

Caring for the Caregivers

Even if your family is not currently providing care, you probably know someone who is. What can you do to support a family caring for a person with Alzheimer’s or other dementia? How can you help support the caregivers? Some suggestions from the Alzheimer’s Association include:

  • Educate yourself about Alzheimer’s disease. Learn about its effects and how to respond.
  • Stay in touch, offer support and friendship. A card, a call or a visit means a lot and shows you care.
  • Be patient. Adjusting to an Alzheimer’s diagnosis is an ongoing process and each person reacts differently.
  • Engage the person with dementia in conversation. It’s important to involve the person in conversation even when his or her ability to participate becomes more limited.
  • Offer to help the family with its to-do list. Prepare a meal, run an errand or provide a ride.
  • Be flexible. Don’t get frustrated if your offer for support is not accepted immediately. The family may need time to assess its needs.

References

  1. Family Caregiver Alliance. Caregiver Statistics: Health, Technology, and Caregiving Resources.
  2. Lautenschlager, NT, Diehl-Schmid, J., Loi, SM. Modern technology to support carers of care recipients with dementia or functional mental illness: promising progress, but a long road ahead. International Psychogeriatrics. 2017, 29(12);1933-1935.
  3. Lorenz , K. et al. (2017). Technology-based tools and services for people with dementia and carers: mapping technology onto the dementia care pathway. Dementia.

Resources

     

DepressionAlzheimer’s

 

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