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POV: Four strategies for caregivers

The author is the founder and CEO of Aegis Living, a community of 28 living facilities in Washington, California, and Nevada, and the author of “My Mother, My Son: A true story of love, determination, and memories…lost”

There are few responsibilities more emotionally and physically taxing than taking care of a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease. These tasks include bathing and feeding them, keeping them safe, performing household chores, paying bills, and communicating with other family members and the medical community. Most caregivers take on this responsibility out of a deep sense of love, duty and devotion, but the daily tasks can be so consuming that they often leave one critical task undone: taking care of the caregivers’ own physical and emotional needs. This oversight can cause caregivers to become “secondary patients” of Alzheimer’s, which puts them at higher risk for developing high-blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome and reduced immune function.

If caregivers hope to provide effective care to a loved one with Alzheimer’s, they must put their own basic needs first. It’s analogous to the directive flight attendants give to parents in the event of a sudden decrease in cabin pressure: put your own oxygen mask on first. If you attend to your child first, you may pass out before you complete the task, leaving both of you doomed. Here are four strategies that can help caregivers help themselves:

Seek support. Attend a support group for Alzheimer’s caregivers as soon as possible after diagnosis and then as often as you can. You’ll learn how others deal with problems associated with caregiving; gain a better understanding of Alzheimer’s and how it progresses and affects those with the disease; obtain information about available health and social services, as well as financial and legal resources; learn how to ask for help and better take care of yourself; and safely share feelings of guilt and frustration. What’s more, you’ll have an expanded network of people who understand and share your experience.

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