November is National Family Caregivers Month (NFCM) as well as Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. It is a special month to recognize and honor family caregivers throughout the country. This is an opportunity to raise awareness on caregiving issues, educate communities and offer support for caregivers. Caregivers may be taking care of children, someone with a disability, or the elderly.
“When it comes to dementia, many people only know the term Alzheimer’s Disease. Alzheimer’s is just the MOST common type of dementia. There are many types of dementia,”
according to Jennifer Kimball the class Guide for Dementia: Conquering the Challenges of Caregiving,
“Alzheimer’s numbers are climbing exponentially and by 2050 we expect it to triple. If you were to go out and ask people who are say 30-50 years old which they would rather be diagnosed with - dementia, cancer, or heart disease - most would choose either over dementia, even though heart disease and cancer have a higher death rate in the US. Most of this decision is out of fear of dementia, fear of losing control, and knowing that there is no real treatment. With the other two there are usually treatment options that may provide a glimmer of hope.”
While no one can say for certain why dementia is on such a rapid rise, some factors may include longer lifespans, more awareness, recognition, and actual diagnosis of the disease, and the aging group of baby boomers. A little known fact is that many people live with Alzheimer’s for as long as 15-16 years if they are healthy otherwise. That also means there are a number of years that caregivers are neglecting self-care which can easily lead to burn out.
10 Self-Care Tips for Family Caregivers Caring For A Loved One With Dementia
- Keep Up With Research: Knowledge is power and helps keep fear at bay. Read up on the topic and follow news and social media that covers relevant topics.
- Follow Food Guidelines: Make sure you are eating healthy as this affects overall health including mental health. Not sure where to start? Take Healthy Meals on a Budget to learn some great food options at a low cost.
- Exercise: Pick an activity you like and get out and do it! Walking for an hour, playing a team sport, or taking yoga classes all lend to keeping your body limber and healthy.
- Do Something New: Challenge your brain to think and concentrate about a task. This could be as simple as brushing your teeth with your non-dominant hand or trying out brain games. These create alternative paths in the brain. If you yourself are at risk for dementia you could maintain a higher level of function for longer by having created these alternate pathways.
- Focus On What Is There - Not What Is Lost: This can seem like a challenge but many things are still there, even if others are lost. Perhaps a love of a long time passion, or a favorite quirk.
- Sing Songs: Declarative memory goes away (the part that helps you remember why you came to the fridge or where your keys are), but classic favorite songs hang around. Put together a playlist and play it loud!
- Take Caregiving Classes: Reach out to local agencies for support on how to care for your loved one.
- Find Support: This can be caregiver support groups or a group of close friends you can turn to when things get exhausting. Consider the Alzheimer’s Associations’ many support groups and classes if they are near you.
- Take Time For You: Take an hour a day for your own well-being to do something for you. That might be reading, running, or meditation. This is essential as you can’t pour from an empty cup.
- Use Resources: Sign up for caregiver support and use it. There is nothing wrong with using aid and support. Have a senior companion volunteer come so you can do grocery shopping and other things.
While caregiver awareness is growing there is still an issue. According to Jennifer,
“I think that the really helpful information is hard to find. Too often, people are given a dementia diagnosis and sent on their way to cope. They aren’t given any tools to build coping skills. That’s why I am happy to be able to reach out and provide it to people through classes. After learners take the dementia caregiving class the tools are easy to put into place - that lightbulb goes off in their heads and it is nice to see that.”
Classes, support groups, and resources are available through area agencies, community centers, volunteer organizations, and faith groups. Many of these you can find online or come right to you. With online classes information is streamed into your living room, and you never have to leave your loved one or stop providing care. Now you can do it all and still attend class, if you prefer, from the comfort of your own home.
Are you interested in a more social caregiver’s discussion? If so, show your interests in the Social Hour - Dementia Caregivers Unite a casual event to socialize with people in a safe space to vent frustrations, find friends, and learn what works for different people through shared stories.