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Health Care Corner: Caring for the Caregiver

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, in 2012, 15.4 million family members and friends provided 17.5 billion hours of unpaid care to those with Alzheimer’s and other dementias. With the growing number of people caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease or other debilitating diseases it’s important to be a resource for those who seek help and guidance. Adult children and seniors alike are more educated and internet savvy and are researching options when it comes to advice and education. In order to be a valuable resource for your market, have the information available at your community for those seeking during a tour as well as listed on your website.

CCRCs and their senior living professionals should be known as the industry experts and should provide resources as caregivers experience a high level of stress. It can be overwhelming to care for a loved one, and the stress can be harmful to both the one giving and the one receiving care. It is important to educate the market on the signs of caregiver stress and ways to manage this stress.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the following are the Top 10 signs of caregiver stress:

  1. Denial about the disease and its effect on the person who has been diagnosed: “I know Mom is going to get better.”
  2. Anger at the person with Alzheimer’s, anger that no cure exists or anger that people don’t understand what’s happening: “If he asks me that one more time I’ll scream!”
  3. Social withdrawal from friends and activities that once brought pleasure: “I don’t care about getting together with the neighbors anymore.”
  4. Anxiety about the future: “What happens when he needs more care than I can provide?”
  5. Depression that begins to break your spirit and affects your ability to cope: “I don’t care anymore.”
  6. Exhaustion that makes it nearly impossible to complete necessary daily tasks: “I’m too tired for this.”
  7. Sleeplessness caused by a never-ending list of concerns: “What if she wanders out of the house or falls and hurts herself?”
  8. Irritability that leads to moodiness and triggers negative responses and actions: “Leave me alone!”
  9. Lack of concentration that makes it difficult to perform familiar tasks: “I was so busy; I forgot we had an appointment.”
  10. Health problems that begin to take a mental and physical toll: “I can’t remember the last time I felt good.”

Once you educate on the signs of caregiver stress, share tips to manage the stress as noted:

  • Know what resources are available: Senior living communities, Assisted Living communities and Memory Support communities are just some of the services that can help you manage daily tasks.
  • Get help: Trying to do everything by yourself will leave you exhausted. Seek the support of family, friends and caregivers going through similar experiences. Tell others exactly what they can do to help. Contact the Alzheimer’s Association 24/7 Helpline (800.272.3900) and use as a resource for support and guidance.
  • Use relaxation techniques: There are several simple relaxation techniques that can help relieve stress. Try more than one to find which works best for you. Techniques include: 1) Visualization (mentally picturing a place or situation that is peaceful and calm); 2) Meditation (which can be as simple as dedicating 15 minutes a day to letting go of all stressful thoughts); 3) Breathing exercises (slowing your breathing and focusing on taking deep breaths); 4) Progressive muscle relaxation (tightening and then relaxing each muscle group, starting at one end of your body and working your way to the other end).

Learn more about relaxation techniques on the Mayo Clinic website. And of course, if anyone should experience any of these signs of stress on a regular basis, make time to talk to your doctor. Remember, caregivers are consistently seeking help, guidance and support.  Evaluate what type of resource you are to your leads and your professionals and make necessary changes and upgrades to become the provider of choice in your market.

—Mindy Cheek, Vice President, Management Services

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