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Supporting Caregivers: How to Prevent Burnout while Caring for Someone with Alzheimer's Disease

We know first-hand about the debilitating effects of Alzheimer’s disease. We also know that as the disease progresses, people living with Alzheimer’s require more and more care.

For those lucky enough to have a loved one support them through this challenging disease, caregivers mean everything. From taking on mundane tasks such as paying bills to helping loved ones remember their name, caregivers offer their full support and take on a lot of additional stress.

Too often, we come across caregivers on the verge of burnout from the role they’ve taken on. It's time to help those caring for others get the support they need.

a supportive caregiver

The Early Stage for Caregivers

"Early stage" refers to people, irrespective of age, who are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or a related disorder, and are in the beginning stage of the disease.

In the early stage of Alzheimer's, most people function independently. This means they can still drive, take part in social activities, volunteer, and even work.

This is the time when many caregivers find themselves in a new and unfamiliar role.

“The simple act of caring is heroic.” - Edward Albert

a caregiver playing chess with her dad

As a caregiver, you don’t always get the praise or thanks that you deserve. But that doesn’t mean that you aren’t making a difference.

If you are going through this now or have gone through it, please lift up others who are going through it and please support each other. It makes a difference, just like you are making a difference for your loved one.

What Is Your Role?

The role of a care partner is not limited to spouses, partners, or close family members.

Care partners also include friends, neighbors, or long-distance relatives.

No matter your relationship with a loved one with dementia, it’s important to connect with others in the support network to share insights or make plans to meet the person with dementia in their own environment.

How do you define your role?

“Caregivers attract caregivers and live in a community of love. They are energized by their caring, fulfilled, and they love life.” ― Gary Zukav

a supportive hand of a caregiver

Do you have any words of wisdom to energize others? Share them with others. Share them with other caregivers who may be struggling. Support. Support. Support. It's so important.

Maximize Independence

One of the greatest challenges care partners face is not knowing how much assistance to give. This can be particularly trying during the early stages of Alzheimer’s.

To help you determine when and how to provide the most appropriate support to a person living in the early stage of dementia, consider these tips used by other care partners provided by the Alzheimer’s Association:

Safety first: Is there an immediate safety risk for the person with dementia to perform this task alone? If there is no immediate risk of injury or harm, encourage, and continue to provide supervision as necessary.

Avoid stress: Prioritize tasks or actions that do not cause unnecessary stress for the person with dementia. For example, if you know that grocery shopping will be frustrating for a person with dementia, ask for their participation to outline a weekly menu, and organize a grocery list.

a caregiver assisting their loved one

Make a positive assumption: Assume that the person with dementia is capable of completing the task. If you sense frustration, try to identify the cause of the frustration before intervening.

Focus on his or her current needs, rather than dwelling on the future.

Create a help signal: Identify a cue or phrase that you can use to confirm if the person with dementia is comfortable receiving support. For example, you may agree to use a phrase like, “Is there anything I can do to help?” or a nod to signal that it’s ok to chime in if the person with dementia is having difficulty remembering a word or name.

Talk it over: The best way to determine how and when to provide support is to ask directly. Ask the person with dementia what they need or the frustrations they may be experiencing. Talk about it, then make a plan.

Work better together: Find activities to do together and keep the conversation going about expectations for how you will provide support. Check in regularly by asking the person with dementia if you are providing a level of assistance that is comfortable or adequate.

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