When a family member is diagnosed with a progressive dementia, it is challenging not only for the “patient” but even more so for the entire family system. Diseases such as Alzheimer’s impact everyone in the family and sometimes in the community (if the person doesn’t have family).
Those who oversee the care of someone with a dementia, should schedule regular appointments with the primary care physician and bring to the attention of the doctor any changes in behavior, which can sometimes be a signal of illness.
Over ½ of the primary caregivers caring for someone with a dementia suffer themselves from untreated depression. So, it is just as important that the family caregiver be seen by a primary physician regularly as well. Untreated depression and stress can lead to cardiac events such as heart attacks or strokes. Self-care becomes more important when you are a primary family caregiver.
Family caretakers should connect with a support group and enroll in educational courses that prepare them for the caregiving journey. Those who participate in day care programs, support groups, and have a spiritual resource cope better.
Quality in life comes one day at a time and it is important for the caregiver, as well as for the person with a memory loss disorder, to find pleasure in every day. Make this a goal, even if it is a short walk in a well cared for park or sitting watching children in the playground. Caregivers should cultivate as well as keep interests in activities that have always given their life pleasure.
In working with family caregivers, I often tell them to try to budget dollars and time that they will spend each month on keeping pleasure in their lives, despite the journey of being a caretaker to someone with a dementia. The budget of dollars allows them to spend money on day care, home care or respite stays so that they can renew themselves with quiet time or a personal interest such as travel, entertainment or one-on-one time with a grandchild. Even though these dollars seem to be spent on them it actually allows one to care for someone a longer period of time because they are finding pleasure in life at the same time as providing 24/7 care for another.