Start Off on the Right Foot in 2010
For many family members overloaded with the 24/7 challenges of providing care to loved ones with Alzheimer's disease, it may seem as though one day rolls into the next, one year rolls into the next. But, it is a new year, a new decade-and a good time to look ahead with a fresh set of eyes. A look back at some of research studies that emerged in 2009 plants the seed for five resolutions that, although they may require squeezing out some time from a busy day, may help ease the role of caregiving in 2010:
1. Get some help. A comprehensive report on caregiving in the United States (National Alliance for Caregiving, November 2009) confirmed the scope of caregiving-65.7 million caregivers of people aged 50+. Caregivers cited Alzheimer's disease and old age (each 15 percent) as the main problem or illness for which a relative needs care. The good news is that, compared to a similar study five years ago, caregivers reported getting more help from unpaid caregivers. But some of the bad news is, the report said, indications that caregiving is becoming more emotionally and financially demanding (for example, a sharp drop in the use of paid help). And more caregivers need help keeping their loved ones safe and finding easy activities to do at home. These statistics confirm that caregivers must utilize every means available to get some assistance that will alleviate the stress that accompanies the role. That means searching out respite care grants and other means of financial relief, tapping the Internet for information, investigating products and services that can keep loved ones safe and stimulated at home, and seeking help from social workers and other professionals.
2. Take care of yourself. A research study (Journals of Gerontology, December 2009) revealed a nine percent rise in the disability rate among non-institutionalized adults aged 65 and older between 2000 and 2005, evidenced, in part, by difficulty handling activities of daily living due to a health problem. The study's lead author noted that the "combination of disability rates, plus a growing proportion of older adults emphasizes the importance of prevention of the many chronic conditions giving rise to disability in the first place." The bottom-line: watch what you eat, curb obesity, exercise, manage stress and adapt other heart-healthy and brain-healthy strategies.
3. Recognize that caregiving is meaningful. Large-scale research findings (Psychosomatic Medicine, June 15. 2009) linked life purpose and longevity, finding that people who reported a greater sense of purpose-whether modest or grandiose-had a lower risk of dying during the follow-up period. In the midst of caregiving, family caregivers often can't see the forest from the trees. But the big picture is this: providing care to a love one tops the list of meaningful and rewarding activities. It's a role that affords an enormous purpose in life. Caregivers don't have to stop there: volunteer or set other goals.
4. Be aware of elder financial abuse. An extensive study (MetLife Mature Market Institute, March 2009) highlighted what one journalist has dubbed "the crime of the 21st Century"-the unauthorized use or illegal taking of funds or property of people aged 60 and older, tallying as much as $2.6 billion annually. Even more disturbing, the review found that the perpetrators typically are close associates trusted by the victim, including financial professionals and family members, friends, and non-agency and agency caregivers. The old adage that it's better to be safe than sorry rings true here. Keep your eyes on the ball. As cited in the study, notable signs exhibited by those who engage in elder financial abuse include excessive interest in the older person's assets, influence over the person's decisions and sudden acquisition of expensive possessions.
5. Speak openly about end-of-life care. New research (New England Journal of Medicine, April 15, 2009) found that the majority of individuals with advanced dementia received aggressive medical interventions but did not receive palliative treatments for common symptoms, such as pain and agitation, in their last few months of life. Less than one-fifth of caregivers said a doctor had discussed their loved one's prognosis. This gap is critical: researchers found that family members who understood that their loved ones were dying were much less likely to agree to medical interventions designed to prolong life. Discussions with healthcare professionals about a loved one's prognosis and wishes for end-of-life care may help improve quality of life and ease discomfort during a person's last days for the person-and the family.