By Karen Stokes
Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease that destroys memory and other important mental functions. It affects not only the patient but entire families.
Psychologists often refer to the families and caregivers of those with memory loss as the ‘invisible second patients’ as it has a ripple effect that can impact the entire family.
When a family member starts to experience the symptoms of Alzheimer’s and receives a diagnosis, it may be difficult to know what the right measures will be to take in order to provide the best type of care for your loved one. As the disease progresses family may feel their role as caretaker has become increasingly harder to perform at the rate or ability they once did.
Ann Park’s mother, June was diagnosed with the disease in 2012, although the family had suspicions and concerns prior to that.
June was a teacher and as the family noticed memory issues at 62, they encouraged her to retire.
“Dad was mom’s primary caregiver and he handled a lot of the stress. We wanted more home care but dad felt it was evasive. We used adult day care services” said Parks. “Dad would take her to a center.”
Other family members including teens can be helpful for caretakers and the patient.
Approximately one quarter of the more than 11 million dementia caregivers are “sandwich generation” caregivers—meaning that they care not only for an aging parent, but also for children under age 18.
“Teens can help run errands and help ease stress. It was very stressful for my mom to order at Subway, so family members can help with ordering, taking them to lunch so the caretaker or patient doesn’t need to navigate those things,” Parks said.
Parks dad, Richard was hands on 24/7. Parks and her sister would stay with their mom so their dad could do fun things like fishing with his friends.
There came a time where Parks mom needed to go to memory care.
“My dad wanted to take care of her at home but at some point she was no longer able to walk. She was in a wheelchair but it got to the point where transfers from the chair to the bed were difficult with risks for falls.”
Falls are a problem. Parks said there’s also a risk of wandering. Patients with Alzheimer’s will wander outside trying to find a place where they used to live.
“Over the years, we’ve been so grateful for all the resources from the Alzheimer’s Association and other organizations to support us,” Parks said. “I learned a lot about how to accept where she was in her dementia journey. Early on, I remember being truthful when she’d ask to speak to her deceased mother, but eventually learned to accept her reality and simply say that her mother was busy today and leave it at that. We encourage other families to reach out and take advantage of resources to support them.”
The Alzheimer’s Association is helpful for families providing tip sheets and connecting families to resources and specialists.
For more information go to Alz.org.