According to the Alzheimer’s Association and the National Alliance for Caregiving, there are 8.9 million people in the U.S. caring for someone over the age of 50 who has dementia. This is a full 20 percent of all family caregivers in this country. Caregivers of dementia patients are under particular pressures due to the long-term nature of the condition; they can face daily challenges communicating with their family members, managing their security, and helping them with the activities of daily living. As a result, many caregivers find themselves struggling to maintain their own physical and mental health.
As a caregiver, it is very important to get a correct diagnosis of your family member’s condition. While we often confuse dementia with Alzheimer’s disease, there is actually a difference: Dementia describes a group of symptoms that includes short-term memory loss, confusion, and, sometimes, personality changes or unusual behavior. Symptoms in a person with dementia fluctuate, and the condition doesn’t necessarily get worse over time. The good news is that symptoms of reversible dementia may be relieved if the root cause of the problem—which can include improper medication management, depression, vitamin deficiencies, or thyroid disorders—can be corrected.
Alzheimer’s Disease, on the other hand, is a progressive form of dementia which worsens to a known outcome. Alzheimer’s, unfortunately, is considered irreversible; there is no cure, though there are medications that can slow the progression of the disease. But even if you are given a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, take heart. Families who inform themselves on the likely course of the disease should be better prepared to deal with it as it progresses.
As a caregiver, it is important to get some training. Talk with your physician or home care staff about how to maintain a safe home and how to provide personal care, such as bathing, grooming, and toileting. You will need to learn how to handle certain behaviors such as depression, apathy, or combativeness. And remember to take care of yourself – managing your own health, finding time to pursue your own interests, and connecting with other caregivers will go a long way toward enabling you to provide care for the long-term and give a better quality of life for your family member.
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