If you as a family caregiver are providing care for a senior loved one who is living with Alzheimer’s disease, you may at times feel isolated in your efforts. But you are not alone. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2019, family and friends acting as unpaid caregivers for those living with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia provided 18.5 billion hours of care.

These caregivers are all meeting the unique challenges that come with caring for someone with Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Five Challenges for Alzheimer’s Caregivers

1. Learning about the disease

As a caregiver, it’s important to learn about the symptoms of Alzheimer’s, which include:

  • Difficulty remembering newly learned information
  • Disorientation
  • Mood and behavior changes
  • Deepening confusion about events, time, and place
  • Unfounded suspicions
  • Increased memory loss
  • Difficulty speaking or swallowing

A person with Alzheimer’s may wander away from home, be unable to perform personal care tasks and other activities of daily living, and become verbally and physically abusive.

2. Taking on the roles and duties

Talk with your senior’s physician about what to expect. Understand that you will be taking on several roles:

Providing physical care and security. This could include bathing, grooming, assistance with dressing and toileting, and helping with mobility.

Housekeeping and home maintenance. As your senior becomes more dependent on you, cooking, cleaning, laundry, and yardwork will be required of you or others who may assist you.

Medical management. As the ability to remember tasks fades, medication management will be necessary, as well as taking the senior to doctor’s appointments plus addressing other care needs.

Financial management. Keeping financial papers in order, paying bills, and other financial responsibilities will become necessary for the caregiver or someone who has been designated with financial power of attorney.

Emotional support. People with Alzheimer’s experience additional stress, anxiety, and frustration. They will look to the caregiver for calming reassurance and patient understanding. This is not an easy role to play, as the senior’s paranoia, suspicion, and unexpected emotions may take their toll on a caregiver.

3. Learning to accommodate change

As the disease progresses, things will change. What happens today may not have happened yesterday and won’t be repeated tomorrow. What happened this morning will change in the evening if your senior experiences “sundown syndrome” and exhibits increased mood swings, anxiety, sadness, and a host of other emotions. You will need to learn to adapt to the unexpected; change the subject of a conversation not connected to reality and redirect some misdirected thoughts and emotions with patience, love, and, sometimes, a little humor.

4. Taking care of yourself

Devoting so much time and energy to your senior can lead you to neglect your own physical and emotional wellbeing. You have to maintain some balance, which includes taking time to relax when possible. Find opportunities to exercise, even if it is for 10 minutes two or three times a day. Take your medications. Ask a friend or relative to watch Dad while you go on a walk, and after you get back from the walk, talk to that friend or relative about what you are thinking and feeling. Sharing your experience will help you cope.

More than half (53 percent) of caregivers indicate that a decline in their health compromises their ability to provide care. Furthermore, caregivers and their families often experience economic hardships through lost wages and additional medical expenses, which adds to stress.

Understand the warning signs of burnout. Caregivers may have their own set of symptoms according to the CDC.

They may experience:

  • Elevated levels of depression and anxiety
  • Higher use of psychoactive medications
  • Worsening physical health
  • Compromised immune function
  • Increased risk of early death

5. Know when you are beyond your limit

When your senior’s needs have progressed to requiring increased physical demands or managing the senior’s health has become more complex than you can coordinate, it is time to either seek home health services or a senior living community that can support the needs of people with Alzheimer’s.

As a family caregiver, you can become so locked into your role that you may believe you are the only one who can take care of Mom or Dad. Or you know that you have reached your limits, but guilt pushes you to keep going. As Alzheimer’s progresses, the care needs can become a 24/7 situation. (Did I just now hear Mom wandering away from the house in the middle of the night?)

If you feel that giving up is a failure or even a betrayal, think about all the wonderful things you have done in support of your loved one. Then remember that it should always be about what is best for him or her and, ultimately, yourself.

If your senior loved one needs extra care, explore Bethesda’s Memory Support communities, which can be found in our Assisted Living or Skilled Nursing communities. Contact us to learn more or schedule a tour.