7 Ways to Support Families of Alzheimers Patients

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.

  1. Be knowledgeable of community resources available to yourself and your loved one: This can be things like meal delivery, adult day programs, home health nursing, in-home assistance, or volunteer programs.
  2. Find help and support: This can be finding comfort and reassurance when caregiving can be overwhelming. Local support groups or online communities provide support related to caregiving.
  3. Relieve stress: Use relaxation techniques such as visualization, meditating, breathing exercises, or progressive muscle relaxation.
  4. Physical activity: Get moving doing anything for as little at 10 minutes a day. This is known to reduce stress and improve mental health. Any type of movement can be helpful: walking, dancing, gardening, running, swimming, etc.
  5. Find something just for YOU: Take a time out to enjoy something that is just for you to enjoy. Respite care provides the opportunity for caregivers to find joy in other things while their loved one is well taken care of.
  6. Educate yourself: Referring to information from reliable sources about the progression of Alzheimer's can help you determine how to better understand and cope with personality and behavior changes.
  7. Take care of your health: The importance of taking care of your body with proper rest, exercise, and healthy foods to fuel your body makes you a better caregiver.

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.