10 Tips for Caregivers
Caregiving Long Distance
About Alzheimer’s Disease
Change Family Roles
10 Tips for Caregivers
- Ask for help from family and friends. Find local services that can help you with the stress of caregiving.
- Look for good information. Call your state’s Department of Aging or the local Area Agency on Aging. Try your local senior information and help phone lines. Talk to a social worker at a hospital.
- Find someone who can give care if you can’t. Hospitals and social service agencies sometimes keep a list of home care workers. You can also find help from a home health agency or through your church.
- Sign up with a support group to help you make decisions. You can find support groups through your hospital.
- Think about getting help if you get too stressed. Care can be found through family service agencies. You can also find care through a mental health center. Make sure the counselor you pick has worked with older clients before.
- Know your pension plan. The couple should not choose to give up a survivor’s benefit if the earning spouse’s pension is already vested. The couple may have already given up the survivor’s benefit. The caregiver should think about keeping any life insurance from the spouse.
- Look into hospice services. Hospice helps the patient to stay free from pain and in their home as long as possible.
- Check out other incomes. Look for Social Security benefits before age 62. Look for your spouse’s IRA and life insurance policies. Look into the chance of a reverse mortgage.
- Get legal help when you need it. Take legal advice on the best way to watch over your liquid assets if your spouse is in a nursing home. Ask about legal services for seniors at a low price. Call the Legal Aid Society.
- Plan ahead for financial and physical wishes to be carried out. Make sure you are able to sign papers. Think about getting a power of attorney.
Money – You should get the following if your parent cannot handle their money
- A power of attorney can give you the right to take care of their money. A regular power of attorney will not work if your parent becomes really sick.
- A list of all of their money. You can protect more money from your parent’s savings by moving money out of a passbook account into a certificate of deposit. You can also take a loan against an insurance policy. A joint bank account with your parents is useful for paying the bills.
- A computer can put certain money right into your parent’s account. Many bills can be paid this way.
- An extra health insurance policy. This can cover the gaps in Medicare. There is always the risk parent might forget to pay the premiums. Always ask for copies of every bill to be sent to you.
- Insurance claim forms for medical bills. The law says that your parent’s doctor has to enter a Medicare claim. It is up to you to catch the Medicare mistakes and to collect on private insurance claims.
Health – If your parent needs help with the house and their health
- Check the house. Are the lights bright enough? Can you get rid of throw rugs? Should the doorsill be taken out? Does your parent need a stool in the tub? A higher toilet seat? A stair elevator?
- Talk to your parent about a living will and a power of attorney. A living will let parents tell their wishes while they are able. A power of attorney gives someone the right to make medical decisions for their parent. Free living will forms are offered. Write to the Society for the Right to Die, 250 W. 57th St. NY, NY 10107.
- Find the people who take care of your parent. Tell them thank you. Ask them to call you if anything is wrong.
- Plan for health and personal care. This can be hard. It can be even harder if you live far away. There are services on the web. It can take time and money to line up all the help you may need.
- Call your local Area Agency on Aging. They can provide free booklets on elder care and a directory of local services. This agency can also give you access to free care managers.
- Think about a private care manager. They cost about $150-$500. They will visit your parent and make a report. You can spend more money and have them find home health workers, recommend nursing homes, pay regular visits to your parent and handle emergencies.
What is dementia? It is a generic term. It is used to describe symptoms of brain failure. It affects a person’s ability to do the following:
There are many causes of brain failure. The most common are the following three:
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Lewy Body disease
- Vascular dementia
This is the most common cause of brain failure. The first sign is not being able to remember. The disease will eventually affect the following:
Physical changes to the brain include abnormal clumps which are found with this disease. Also found are tangled bundles of fibers. These are only seen in an autopsy. This diagnosis made in the living is only made when other things are ruled out.
Lewy Body Dementia
Physical changes found with this disease include tiny protein deposits. They are found in nerve cells that are getting worse. When these are found all over the brain, the symptoms look like Alzheimer’s disease. The difference is with thinking, attention and concentration. Also the visual spatial abilities are affected more than memory and language. It can cause the person to see things that are not there. It also can cause changes in degree of alertness. The same medicine can be used for both diseases.
This is a problem with the arteries that supply blood to the brain. It is also from a stroke that causes a loss of blood flow to the brain. The onset of symptoms can come on fast or sometimes they can progress slowly. This makes it difficult to tell this disease from Alzheimer’s disease.
Common symptoms are problems with the following:
- Bladder control
Treating diseases that cause strokes, such as high blood pressure, can help.
Other Diseases that Affect Brain Cells and May Result in Progressive Dementia
- Parkinson’s disease
- Huntington’s disease
- Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease
- Frontotemporal dementia
Other causes of Dementia
- Vitamin B-12 deficiency
- Drug interactions
- Thyroid conditions
Symptoms of Dementia
- Thinking difficulties
- Memory problems
- Difficulty understanding
- Sleep disturbances
- Seeing things
- Difficulty performing daily duties
About Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s is a disease of the brain. Strange proteins add up and make the brain cells in charge of behavior, walking, and cognitive skills die. The loss of brain cells is linked with strange clumps of protein in the brain. These are called amyloid plaques. They are also called neurofibrillary tangles. There is also a lower level of brain chemicals that carry messages back and forth between nerve cells.
Alois Alzheimer first saw Alzheimer’s in 1906. People died at a much younger age then. Alzheimer’s was not seen a lot. Alzheimer’s disease is more noticeable today because people live longer. Most people who are 65 years and older may have some memory loss. This is considered a normal part of aging.
What is the difference between normal memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease? There is no test that can give a true answer to this question. There are different degrees of memory loss. It’s normal to forget where you put your keys. The problem is when you forget what the keys are used for. You may hear older adults complain about their forgetfulness. You may see that it is happening a lot. A person may have constant memory loss but no problem thinking. They may have something called ‘mild cognitive impairment’. Many people can live on their own. Most see the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.
The first sign of Alzheimer’s disease is forgetfulness. It will affect language, behavior, reasoning and understanding. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia. A doctor can do a test called the Mini Mental Status Exam. This test checks a person’s orientation, recall, language, and attention. Tests such as a MRI or PET scan can rule out the chance of stroke. Other diseases are ruled out by lab tests. These tests can help find out if Alzheimer’s may be the cause for the person’s memory loss. There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease. There are just treatments. Currently there are several pills that work to slow down the disease.
Stages of Alzheimer’s Disease
Doctors will try to figure out which stage of the disease Alzheimer patients are in. The following is a list of signs that are seen in different stages:
Stage 1: Mild Alzheimer’s disease (lasts 2-4 years)
- Get lost easily
- Lose interest in things
- Trouble finding names for common items
- Lose things more often than normal
- Personality changes/Mood swings
- Some memory loss
- Poor judgement
Stage 2: Moderate Alzheimer’s disease (lasts 2-10 years)
- Speech slows down
- Difficulty with simple daily activities such as dressing
- Believe things are real when they are not
- Pace about
- Often require close supervision
- Display anxiety or depression
- Remembers past but not recent events
Stage 3: Severe Alzheimer’s disease (lasts 1-3 years)
- Inability to use or understand words
- Unable to recognize who they are when they look in the mirror
- Unable to recognize family members
- Needs constant care
- Loses bowel and bladder control
- Vulnerable to illnesses such as pneumonia
Changing Family Roles
Family duties often change when a family member is disabled
Parents may need to take care of their disabled child for a very long time. A son or daughter may become the caretaker for a disabled parent. These role changes may be hard to accept. The roles change in some ways, but not in other ways. This can lead to confusion about what your role is.
The disabled family member may become the center of attention
A great deal of energy and attention is given to the disabled person. Other family members can feel left out. Chores must often be shifted to others. They may begin feeling resentful. Major changes can cause some family members to cut family ties. It can cause divorce.
Different family members will respond in different ways
There is no one correct or right response. Some family members will not be helpful at all. It’s because they cannot cope with what is happening. Some people have reported that their families experience a new kind of closeness. Some people find strength that they never knew they had.
Tips for coping with role changes
In order to cope with your family’s changing roles and duties you might try the following:
- Ask for help when you need it. Support groups can be important sources of help.
- Sit down with family members to ask what they are willing to do to help. Give them ideas about how they could be helpful. Do not assume that they “know” what you need.
- Assume that most people are doing the best they can.
- Know that you are dealing with a stressful situation. If you are having difficulty dealing with the stresses, it is not because you are not good enough.
- Schedule fun time for all family members. Make special time for everyone in the family.
- Keep all family members informed of the details of the disability and care.