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10 Ways Others Can Help an Alzheimer Family

"We like to go out, but my husband's too much to handle alone. I could use some help."

"Call me, If I can't talk, I'll let you know."

"It's difficult when friends stay away."

Alzheimer's causes significant changes in family life. Spouses and children - often including school age youngsters - become caregivers. Caregiving can make recreation, chores and even employment difficult or impossible to maintain. The uninsured cost of care can wipe out savings, too. It's no wonder that 80 percent of Alzheimer caregivers report high levels of stress and stress-related illness.

Families Need Friends

One in ten American families has a loved one with Alzheimer's disease; and one in three adults knows someone with the disease. Chances are, you do, too. You may want to offer your help, but worry that you'll say or do the wrong thing. You should know that:

Alzheimer caregivers:

feel alone and disconnected from friends need assistance but are reluctant to ask are often unable to do errands or complete household tasks experience stress, sometimes severe need a break from caregiving, but may not have anyone to relieve them or refuse assistance when it's offered are looking for someone to listen

And those with Alzheimer's:

face an uncertain future must adjust to new schedules and changing roles and responsibilities worry about overwhelming family caregivers strive to maintain an active and independent lifestyle may look the same, but act differently

10 Easy Ways to Help An Alzheimer Family

A friend is an important source of support for the Alzheimer family. Even if they live far away, there's still plenty you can do. Here are ten easy ways to help:

1. Keep in touch Maintain contact with family members. A card, a call, or visit all mean a great deal. Family members, including the person with Alzheimer's, will benefit from your visits or calls. Continue to send cards, even if you don't get a response. It's a simple, yet important way to show you care.

2. Do little things - they mean a lot When cooking, make extra portions and drop off a meal (in a freezable and disposable container). If you're on your way out to do an errand, check with a family member to see if there's anything they need. Surprise the caregiver with a special treat, such as a rented movie, an audiotape of last week's church service or a gift certificate for a massage or dinner out.

3. Give them a break. Everyone needs a little time for themselves. Offer to stay with the Alzheimer person so family members can run errands, attend a support group meeting or take a short trip. Even if the caregiver does not leave the house, this will provide some personal time. Chances are, the person with Alzheimer's will also enjoy a break.

4. Be specific when offering assistance Most friends are good about saying they're available to "do anything," but many caregivers find it hard to ask for something specific. Have the family prepare a "to do" list of hard-to-get-to projects (e.g., laundry, dusting, yard work, medical bills). Figure out what you can do, then dedicate some time - on a weekly or monthly basis - to helping the family tackle some of these tasks.

5. Be alert Learn about Alzheimer's and how it impacts the family. Most people with Alzheimer's "wander" at some point, and could become lost in their own neighborhoods. Know how to recognize a problem and respond. Take time to learn about other common behaviors and helpful care techniques.

6. Provide a change of scenery Plan an activity that gets the whole family out of the house. Make a reservation at a restaurant and ask for a table with some privacy. Be sure to include the person with Alzheimer's, if the caregiver feels it's appropriate. If not, make arrangements for someone to stay at home while you're out. Or, invite the family to your house or to a nearby park for a picnic.

7. Learn to listen Sometimes, those affected by Alzheimer's just need to talk with someone. Ask family members how they're doing and encourage them to share. Be available when the caregiver is free to talk without interruptions. You don't need to provide all the answers - just be a compassionate listener. Try not to question or judge, but rather, support and accept.

8. Care for the caregiver Encourage caregivers to take care of themselves. Pass along useful information and offer to attend a support group meeting with them.

9. Remember all family members. The person with Alzheimer's will appreciate your visits, even if unable to show it. Talk with the person the way you'd want to be talked to. Spouses, adult children and even young grandchildren are all affected in different ways by a relative's Alzheimer's disease. Be attentive to their needs, too.

Carol Simpson (c) copyright 1997


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