A Can-do Attitude Is a Good 1st Step for New Caregivers
New caregivers can easily become overwhelmed by their responsibilities. But all of us who are caregivers were also overwhelmed at the start of our own caregiving journeys.
Daunting is an overused term, but it is the most descriptive word for caregiving newbies. It is daunting to learn the ropes, especially when caring for someone with dementia or its most common form, Alzheimer’s disease. If this describes your state of being, I am here to let you know that you can do it!
It can be difficult for new caregivers to imagine how they will get through it, if they’re looking at the big picture. How can you possibly provide adequate care, knowing as little as you know right now? The answer is simple: You’ll learn, and don’t try to absorb the big picture.
No one can predict what will fall in their direction — not the good, the bad, or the ugly. Attempting to look ahead with untrained eyes will only overwhelm new caregivers. In the beginning, we don’t even know what we don’t know.
If you know someone who is where you were, get them to join a caregiver support group. A full-time caregiver won’t have much time to attend meetings, but there will be resources and support information available there, along with knowledgeable, empathetic listeners who can offer helpful advice.
The best way to look for a local support group is to search on Google or to contact a local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. Or seek out helpful books written by caregivers like Carol B. Amos, who authored “H.O.P.E. for the Alzheimer’s Journey: Help, Organization, Preparation, and Education for the Road Ahead.”
Amos, who cared for her mother, who had Alzheimer’s disease for more than a decade, has a vast amount of knowledge born from experience, and her book provides actionable steps for new caregivers to consider, although everyone’s experiences will be a little different. Hers is one of the many good books by caregivers.
Learning the ropes
Caregiving involves immersion — complete immersion — into the disease, which means learning all you can about it. However, while book knowledge is essential, nobody can actually experience dementia until they are in its throes.
Knowing the disease and caring for a person with Alzheimer’s are two different things. There are textbook cases of symptoms, but there’s no such thing as a textbook case of a person with Alzheimer’s disease. Your parent, spouse, or other loved one may exhibit symptoms differently, and react according to their own personality. In some cases, personality changes that accompany the disease, and how that person responds to them, will vary.
Perhaps the only constant about Alzheimer’s disease is that no fast rules apply across the board. We have to educate ourselves as much as possible, but caregiving requires on-the-job training, and everyone improves with practice.
The physical component
Here’s another tip for new caregivers: Though symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s disease may occur in someone as young as 60, the average age of diagnosis is 80, which means that caregivers need to be mindful of the physical requirements of tending to someone of such an advanced age.
There is a physical component to caring for a loved one with dementia beyond just daily duties, especially if the patient is elderly. Physical strength is needed to get up from a chair, step out of the shower, or get in and out of a car, and a person with dementia may not comprehend verbal commands. So, caregivers must learn how to help without hurting themselves or their loved ones.
Caregivers should never try to lift someone by pulling them by their arm or hand. The pulling, combined with the placement of weight on the wrist or elbow, can injure them, and even dislocate a joint.
Elbow dislocation is the second most common form of dislocation in adults, after dislocation of the shoulder. Pulling an older adult up by their hands could also cause a dislocation in the fingers or wrist. It’s better to assist a loved one by placing an arm under their armpit, and then, standing with your feet apart, lift with your legs and not your back to help them stand. Placing both arms under a loved one’s armpit and lifting can also work, as needed.
Caregiving entails other physical components, too, which I’ll discuss in upcoming columns. Until then, caregivers can search online or ask a health professional for advice about physically assisting a loved one.
Note: Alzheimer’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Alzheimer’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Alzheimer’s disease.