More than 65 million people, or 29% of the U.S. population, provide care for a chronically ill, disabled, or aged family member or friend during any given year and spend an average of 20 hours per week providing care for their loved one. The value of the services family caregivers provide for “free,” when caring for older adults, is estimated to be $375 billion a year. That is almost twice as much as is actually spent on homecare and nursing home services combined ($158 billion).
November is National Caregivers Month. It is also National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month and National Diabetes Month.
In this special section on caregiving, we honor all caregivers, with special attention and tips on caring for loved ones who suffer from Alzheimer’s and Diabetes. We also include information on caregiver self-care.
Alzheimer’s Home Safety Checklist
People living with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias can be at increased risk for injury or harm in the home. As the disease progresses, they will become unaware of potential dangers. Consider the following precautions to create a safe environment which can prevent dangerous situations from occurring and help maximize independence for as long as possible.
General Home Safety Tips
For more information, visit the Alzheimer’s Association at alz.org or call 800-272-3900.
Caring for Persons Living with Alzheimer’s: A guide to the major stages of the disease
More than five million Americans live with Alzheimer’s disease. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, more than 16 million Americans provided an estimated 18.5 billion hours of unpaid care at an estimated value of 244 billion dollars for family and friends with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias in 2019. Nearly half of all caregivers (48%) who provide help to older adults do so for someone with Alzheimer’s or another dementia. It’s a tragic disease that takes a toll on both the person living with the disease and their caregivers.
The decision to become a caregiver for a person with Alzheimer’s or another dementia is not an easy one, and the reasons for taking on this challenging role vary. A family may desire to keep their loved one or friend at home; someone may accept the task because they live with or in close proximity to the person with dementia; or a caregiver may have a perceived obligation to the person with dementia. Caregivers often indicate love and a sense of duty when describing what motivates them to assume care responsibilities for a relative or friend living with dementia. As the disease progresses through major stages, the type of care a person living with Alzheimers’ needs changes.
In the initial stage of Alzheimer’s, which can last for years, most people function independently. They may still drive, visit friends, volunteer, even work. A caregiver’s role (often called care partner in this stage) in this stage is to provide support, companionship, and prepare for what’s to come.
What to do:
The middle stage of Alzheimer’s is typically the longest and possibly the most challenging, in terms of caregiving. Damage to the brain can make it difficult to express thoughts and perform routine tasks. He or she may jumble words, have trouble dressing, get frustrated or angry, or act in unexpected ways, such as refusing to bathe. They may forget how to cook, do laundry, and other everyday tasks. They might be prone to wandering and lose their way. Your loved one may experience depression, anxiety, irritability, and repetitive behaviors. As the disease progresses, other changes may occur, including sleep changes, and physical/verbal outbursts. Communication becomes more difficult, as he or she struggles to find the right word, repeats questions, and loses his or her train of thought. Eating, dressing, and grooming become more difficult. During this phase, a person living with Alzheimer’s should not be left alone and needs a great deal of supervision for safety reasons. This requires the caregiver be flexible and patient.
What to do:
This stage can last from several weeks to several years. Around the clock care is usually required. Your loved one may lose the ability to speak and walk. Eating and swallowing becomes difficult. He or she will need full-time help with personal care. They become vulnerable to infections.
What to do:
The Alzheimer’s Association is a valuable source of information for caregivers. Go to alz.org.
As a caregiver, it is vital to maintain your own physical and mental health:
Helping Someone you Love with Diabetes
by Lauren Morris
When a friend or family member is diagnosed with diabetes, you might wonder how to best support them on their journey with this new diagnosis. By educating yourself on the disease and learning how to integrate their new lifestyle into your own, you’d be surprised how simple it is to help someone you care about feel a little more at ease when faced with living with a life-changing diagnosis.
It’s estimated that 425 million people are living with diabetes, and it’s predicted this number will only increase with time. “With diabetes being as prevalent as it is, it’s important that not only are patients educated on what it means to be diabetic, but also that those who are close to patients increase their knowledge of the disease, as well. Knowledge is power, and that is absolutely the case with diabetes,” says Samantha Rider, LDN, RD, CDE, certified diabetes educator with the Endocrinology Center of Southwest Louisiana, an affiliate of Imperial Health.
If they are willing and you are able, accompanying them to their appointments can also be helpful, especially in the early days after their diagnosis. “The better you understand what diabetes is, the better you can help them and yourself,” Rider says.
Diabetes education classes are usually recommended for the patient to help them learn more about their condition and its management. Rider says if you are able to attend these classes with your loved one, that is both a great way to show your support and learn more about their condition. These classes will help the patient and family identify appropriate blood sugar target ranges and provide suggestions for the appropriate response if blood sugars are high or low. She explains the classes focus on interactive experiences to help both the patient, their friends and family members to feel informed and comfortable making treatment decisions.
The good news is that through diet and exercise, and in some cases, medication, diabetes can be managed. When building any new habit, doing it with support makes the change a lot easier. “One of the best things you can do to show that support is to make the same changes they’re having to make,” says Rider. “Implementing a healthier lifestyle will be beneficial to your overall health, as well. You might want to purchase a diabetic cookbook and plan out each week’s meals and then cook it together. Changes are easier to make with someone right by your side.”
When making lifestyle changes, it’s important to be patient. “For example,” says Rider, “someone newly diagnosed with diabetes won’t be able to just run to the grocery store anymore and rush through, picking up their usual items. They will need to read labels, and they’ll probably need help deciphering all the information a nutrition label provides. Be patient and respectful of their new situation, and help if you can.”
Some patients are more sensitive than others about asking and receiving help with their new condition. “It’s important not to offer unsolicited advice or criticism,” says Rider. “If your loved one asks your opinion, offer it supportively, otherwise, find other ways to be a positive presence.”
When someone is first diagnosed, it can be easy to want to help them with everything and overcommit. “Only agree to things you know you’re able to provide,” says Rider. “If your loved one relies on you for things you aren’t able to do consistently, this will cause them more stress, and stress can affect blood sugar levels.”
When caring for someone with diabetes, it’s also important to continue taking care of yourself,” adds Rider. “You aren’t able to give to others when you aren’t at your best. Your goal is to provide love, care, and support to help them manage their condition and live an easier and healthier life with it.”
For more information on diabetes diagnosis, treatment and education, call the Endocrinology Center of SWLA at (337) 310-3670.