It hits you like a ton of bricks. “I’m sorry, but your husband/wife has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.” You have been noticing for a while that he or she is forgetful, or that he or she seemed confused when doing tasks that they had done forever, like making dinner, but you never expected this.
It all changed when he or she disappeared after going to the store. He or she had not come home for hours. Just as you reached for the phone to call the police, your neighbor from a couple of streets over called. Your husband/wife was knocking on their door.
Now you are at the physician’s office, wondering where to go from here. It is important to understand that you are not alone. In fact, every 66 seconds, someone develops this disease, and it affects over 5 million Americans every day.
Oaks Senior Living, with assisted living and memory care communities throughout Georgia, knows how overwhelming discovering that your spouse has Alzheimer’s disease can be, and we are here to support you through this new challenge.
Tips for New Caregivers
One of the first realizations you may experience is that you are now taking on the role of a caregiver. Depending on the stage of Alzheimer’s your loved one is experiencing, this role can come with varying levels of intensity.
Regardless, you are now a caregiver, but what if you do not know how to take on this role? It is okay to take a moment to process your partner’s diagnosis and prepare yourself for the future. Caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease can be overwhelming at times. You have to make tough decisions and may experience a roller coaster of emotions – love, anger, loneliness, hope, and success – on a daily basis.
It is important to establish routines and take time for yourself to stay healthy. Because this is such a demanding responsibility, and you may have other obligations like work, household tasks, etc., you need to schedule the time to take care of yourself. Help your spouse by helping yourself. Set up weekly nights with your friends, continue spending time gardening or going to the gym. By maintaining these routines, you will be a much more successful caregiver.
Learn Everything You Can About Alzheimer’s Disease
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, “Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking, and behavior. Symptoms usually develop slowly and get worse over time, becoming severe enough to interfere with daily tasks.” The most common form of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 60 percent to 80 percent of dementia cases.
Alzheimer’s disease, along with other forms of dementia, is caused by changes to nerve cells in the brain. The cells in the brain all have specific jobs, including thinking, learning, and remembering. They communicate with each other to achieve larger functions that allow the brain to operate as it is supposed to. When a significant amount of damage is done to cells, this damage begins to spread, causing loss of function and irreversible damage to the brain. These “microscopic changes in the brain begin long before the first signs of memory loss.”
It is essential to educate yourself on the disease, on care options available, and to get answers to any questions you may have. When you understand your spouse’s condition, you are able to empathize and connect with him or her on a deeper level, and can identify how to provide better care. You can recognize signs of the disease’s progression and seek the medical care that he or she needs.
A great place for information is the Alzheimer’s Association website. The Alzheimer’s Association is a huge advocate promoting education, medical research, and help for caregivers. If you wish to become an advocate for pushing advancements, you can easily find your local chapter or search by state.
If you cannot locate the information you are looking for on the Alzheimer’s Association website, try searching on the Alliance for Aging Research website. While this organization covers all topics related to aging, it provides comprehensive lists of various Alzheimer’s resources.
Start the Caregiving Conversation
In a perfect world, you and your spouse would have had the caregiving conversation well before he or she needed care; however, this is not always the case. It is beneficial if this conversation happens sooner rather than later to make sure that you are both on the same page. For instance, does your spouse want in-home health care? Should he or she need to move into a memory care community, does he or she want to remain as close to home as possible? These decisions need to be made before his or her condition worsens or a bigger crisis presents itself.
Do not avoid the financial aspect of this conversation. You need to be aware of insurance information and financial accounts that are available to cover care costs.
Even though the caregiving conversation may not be easy to initiate and may be uncomfortable to talk about, you can have peace of mind in knowing that the care you are providing is what your loved one wants. In addition, waiting for your spouse’s condition to worsen limits you on time and choices. The sooner you have the caregiving conversation, the more options you and your partner have available.
Build Your Support Network
You cannot do this alone. Having a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease means you will have to ask for support from people on occasion. Whether this is friends, family, or even professionals, depends on your situation.
While your spouse may not be ready to be placed in an assisted living or memory care community, most of these providers often offer respite care or day-to-day care. Both of these options are short-term care options available to you and your loved one. Need a break to run some errands? Have an appointment that requires overnight travel? Look into respite care to ensure your spouse is safe and happy while you are away.
Oaks Senior Living offers both respite care and memory care services. Visit our website to learn more about the services we offer, and download our eBook, What is Respite Care?, for an in-depth look into respite care options that are available to you and your family.
Make a Plan and Create a Routine
An important step at the beginning of your caregiving journey is to make a plan and create a routine. This can and should be a part of the caregiving conversation that you have with your spouse and will make it easier to get as much done as possible throughout a typical day of caregiving.
Work with your support team, talking about both short-term and long-term plans. Who will be responsible for each task? A few examples of these tasks include:
- Cooking and preparing meals
- Handling medications
- Traveling for medical appointments
- Paying bills
As the spouse, and probably the primary caregiver, delegating even the smallest tasks to members of your support team can make a big difference.
Be honest with yourself and the members of your support network. What can you handle on a day-to-day basis? Set realistic expectations and put the plan in writing. Having a physical document of your caregiving plan makes it easy to reference and helps avoid confusion and misunderstandings between caregivers.
A routine makes your plan run more efficiently and takes the guessing out of day-to-day activities. With an established routine in place, you, the members of your care network, and your loved one all know what to expect out of the day ahead.
Celebrate the Little Victories
You will face challenges throughout your caregiving journey. As such, it is vital that you learn how to acknowledge and celebrate small victories. When you overcome an obstacle, no matter how small it may be, take a moment for yourself and relax. Doing this can keep you motivated and focused on providing the best possible care you can for your loved one.
Be Aware of Signs of Caregiver Burnout
Everyone needs a break from time to time. Caregiver burnout is common among primary caregivers. Be aware of warning signs to avoid it as best as possible.
Signs of caregiver burnout include:
- Withdrawal from loved ones
- Fluctuating weight and eating habits
- Constantly getting sick
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Emotional and physical exhaustion
Finding out your spouse has diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease is overwhelming. You are bound to have more questions as you learn more about your loved one’s condition and fully embrace the role of a caregiver. Remember that you are not alone and have resources and support available to you.
Need more information on respite care, or have questions about caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease? We encourage you to find an Oaks Senior Living community near you. We would be happy to answer any questions you may have after receiving an Alzheimer’s diagnosis.
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Updated on: May 15, 2020