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Taking Care of the Caregivers

     

More than 17 million individuals in the United States are family caregivers, providing care and support to an older adult because of physical, mental or cognitive challenges. Many of them care for a parent, a spouse or a friend with Alzheimer's disease or other dementia.

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While caregiving can be a meaningful and rewarding experience, it can also be challenging and can take a toll on the caregiver’s physical and mental health. Family caregivers spend an average of 24 hours per week providing care. Nearly one in four caregivers spend 41 hours or more per week providing care. Many provide care for an extended period of time— more than five years for nearly a quarter of caregivers.

Family caregivers are more likely to experience physical and mental health problems than non-caregivers. They are at greater risk of experiencing emotional distress, depression, anxiety, or social isolation than non-caregivers. There are many sources of help including many local and national organizations with resources for caregivers.

Connecting with Other Caregivers
Caregiver newsletters can be a source of practical tips and information about helpful resources. For example, you can sign up for e-newsletters from the Family Caregivers Alliance or the Caregiver Action Network. You can also read other caregiver’s stories or share your story. Knowing you’re not alone in your challenges and learning how others have dealt with challenges can be tremendously helpful.

You can directly connect with other caregivers online through support groups or through various online forums at Caregiver action Network with topics such as “I'm a New Caregiver... What Do I Do?,” “Working Through Your Frustration and Isolation” and “Alzheimer’s Disease.”

Taking Advantage of Technology
Many devices are available to help keep loved ones safe. Wearable sensors can contact family members if there is an emergency. Online medical records and insurance information can help you keep track of complex health information and apps can help track medications and appointments.

Learn about Participating in Research
If you’re interested in finding out about clinical trials that might be appropriate, the Alzheimer’s Association TrialMatch can help you learn about opportunities to participate. The Family Caregiver Alliance also has a Research Registry listing publicly and privately supported studies and clinical trials of interest to caregiving families dealing with chronic disabling health conditions. 

Adult Day Services and Respite Care
One of the biggest challenges for caregivers is when the individual needs constant care or supervision. Being able to maintain a job or finding time for yourself outside of the home can be critical for the health and mental health of caregivers. Adult day programs and respite care can help.  The Alzheimer’s Association has a community resource finder that can help locate adult day programs and other services. 

The federally supported ARCH National Respite Network and Resource Center, has a national respite locator along with state-by-state fact sheets on funding sources and program eligibility.

A checklist to help choose and evaluate a respite provider is available from the National Adult Day Services Association.

References

  • National Academies of Science. Families Caring for an Aging America. 2016
  • Alzheimer's Association. (2015). 2015 Alzheimer's Disease Facts and Figures.
  • National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP. (2015). Caregiving in the U.S.

     

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