The stress and strain of caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's disease can impact the health and quality of life for those providing the care. Baby boomers who find themselves sandwiched between caring for their children as well as their parents often neglect their own health, financial and social needs.
There are several areas affecting the quality of life of the caregiver that can be improved with appropriate plans, programs or interventions. Examples of these major issues include the following:
Dementia/Alzheimer's Care Management
Local health care facilities may provide community and home-based intervention programs designed to train the caregivers on specific problem-solving skills to impart a better sense of control. Additionally, some programs provide the caregiver with referrals for medical, legal and support services.
The out-of-pocket expenses of caring for an Alzheimer's patient include home health aides, "donut-hole" medication expenses not covered by Medicare Part D, specialized safety equipment, and nutritional supplements, among others. It is imperative for anyone caring for a chronically ill relative to begin an immediate inventory of income and forecasted expenditures. Add to this the potential for a drop in income (due to time lost from work) and investment values (such as real estate and retirement funds), and there may not be adequate resources left for the caregiver's own short-term and long-term needs.
Routine Medical & Wellness Care
Because the caregiver may be so involved with the medical community regarding the family member with Alzheimer's disease, it becomes easy to neglect their own need for annual physicals, routine screenings, behavioral evaluations (due to the frequency of depression, anger, stress, anxiety, sleep deprivation and grief among caretakers), vaccinations, and other forms of preventative and primary care. Additionally, dietary imbalances, significant weight fluctuations and exercise deficits will not provide the caretaker with the optimal physical stamina necessary to provide optimal care.
Friends and family members can seemingly vanish from the lives of caregivers. Parties, social events, informal get-togethers may no longer be a routine part of a caregiver's life, and the isolation can have negative psychological effects such as depression. Social support groups for friends, family and caretakers of Alzheimer's patients can be found in many communities, often sponsored by local medical centers and long-term care facilities. Alternately, many caretakers have benefited from the companionship a loving pet can provide.
Compounding the sense of loneliness and isolation is the lack of independence or personal free time not involved in caretaking activities. Here again, community services may provide some assistance. The local department of the aging, senior citizen's centers and long-term care facilities can provide information on adult day care and respite care. Adult day care programs may provide transportation to and from the site, along with meals and therapeutic recreational activities. Respite care can provide the caretaker with a day or week "off" by serving as a temporary home for the patient.
The intense and time-consuming nature of caregiving can often result in poorer quality of life for the caregiver, as the needs of the Alzheimer's patient are perceived to come first and foremost. Nevertheless, with appropriate planning and interventions, the caregiver can help to optimize their own health, behavioral and financial status.