Caring for Your Parents: Caring for Caretakers
Caretakers of people with dementia are twice as likely to get sick themselves
ANCHORAGE - Caring for a family member with Alzheimer’s can be an exhausting job that goes well beyond a 9 to 5 schedule. Often, the people who look after their loved ones are on duty 24-7. June Juleson knows that first hand; her husband Dick was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s ten years ago.
“Some days it’s just overwhelming,” she said. On top of that, friends and even family members can have a hard time knowing how to react around someone who has dementia.
June finds a lot of support at the Alzheimer’s Resource of Alaska, and so do many others.
Support groups there offer the opportunity to share experiences with people who have “been there.” It’s a safe place for caretakers to laugh, cry and let off stress. Lisa Wawrzonek, with Alzheimer’s Resource, said that getting that break can be critically important because caretakers of people with dementia are twice as likely to get sick themselves.
“One of the things we commonly see is caregivers really wanting to be the dynamic caregiver and doing it all,” said Wawrzonek. “They go to every appointment, do every recreational activity, give every bath and what happens is that it becomes too much.”
Wawrzonek said caregivers who don’t take care of themselves can end up more than exhausted, they can become angry and resentful towards the person they are caring for.
One way adult caretakers can get a break is through respite care in their homes. June Juleson said even the few hours she gets a week helps immensely. A paid caregiver that comes to her home allows her to pay bills or attend to things that can be difficult to accomplish with Dick at her side.
Another option that can be a benefit for both the dementia patient and the caregiver is an Adult Day Center, where caretakers can “drop-off” their loved ones. Two centers in Anchorage receive state grants that can make them more affordable for families; they are “Serendipity” and “Daybreak.” Both have flexible hours so that adults with dementia can attend as many days a week as they desire.
But the benefit to these programs isn’t just for caregivers. The centers offer enriching activities and outings and a chance to socialize with peers. Experts liken it to a door that swings both ways. Dementia patients who get out and are active lead fuller, often longer lives. When caretakers get a chance to recharge, it makes the time they spend with their loved one that much better for both.
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