By Megan Wesenberg, RN, MSN-CN
Clinical Nurse Educator at VMS BioMarketing
During this National Alzheimer's Awareness Month, I've been reflecting on the many fond memories I have of my grandmother when I was a young child. She was our primary babysitter while my dad was obtaining his degree and my mom was working. When I was around 11 years old, my grandmother had started to become forgetful and unable to remember many little things that seemed insignificant at the time. Looking back, these were the early signs of Alzheimer's disease.
My family frequently took long drives on weekends to visit my grandmother at a nursing home specializing in memory care. I could see firsthand how this would take a toll on them and my mother in particular; she was taking care of her mother who, at times, did not even know who she was. Little did I know, this was a glimpse into what I would see during my lifelong career in the health care field.
When a diagnosis like Alzheimer's enters the family, the health care professional team will focus on the treatment of the loved one, but it is also imperative for HCPs to ensure that caregivers are taking care of themselves. When educating family members, I remind them that caregivers are not effective if they cannot take care of themselves first. Take the time not only to listen to the patient, but also look for signs of caregiver fatigue (exhaustion, sleeplessness, lack of concentration, irritability, social withdrawal, etc). If any of these signs are present, talk to the caregiver independent of their loved one, so the focus is on them. Work with them to develop a plan that fits their needs and re-evaluate it frequently to determine the effectiveness.
Here are few tips to help caregivers of Alzheimer's patients take better care of themselves.
Alzheimer's is a disease that not only affects the patient, but also has a direct impact on the family - especially caregivers. As a Clinical Nurse Educator, we provide education related to disease states, therapeutic treatments, and medication. Don't forget we are also educating caregivers so they can provide optimal support and care for their loved one.