Spouses or children who are caregivers for aging loved ones often don’t recognize when they are in over their heads until they reach a breaking point.  Short-term the caregiver can handle it. Long-term, help is often needed.

25 % of family members of those who need Alzheimer’s/dementia care report working as a caregiver 40 plus hours per week, on top of their own paid job or other family obligations. 

A typical pattern with an overloaded caregiver may unfold as follows:

  • 1 to 18 months – the caregiver is confident, has everything under control and is coping well. Other friends and family are lending support.
  • 20 to 36 months – the caregiver may be taking medication to sleep and control mood swings. Outside help dwindles away and except for trips to the store or doctor, the caregiver has severed most social contacts. The caregiver feels alone and helpless.
  • 38 to 50 months – Besides needing tranquilizers or antidepressants, the caregiver’s physical health is beginning to deteriorate. Lack of focus and sheer fatigue cloud judgment and the caregiver is often unable to make rational decisions or ask for help.

It is often at this stage that family or friends of the person who needs Alzheimer’s or dementia care or friends notice the decline and start looking for other solutions for care.  This may include respite care, adult day care, home health care or home care with caregivers.  

Even then, a family caregiver may feel guilty about seeking outside help, and the Alzheimer’s or dementia care client may be suspicious of anyone else entering the home. 

The solution may be a slow introduction, hiring an in  home caregiver a few times a week to start will introduce the idea of caregiving in a positive way.  The spouse can use this time to venture out with friends, go to church, do shopping, engage with family, or just take a walk and breathe. 

As the relationship and trust with the caregiver grows, both the spouse and the Alzheimer’s dementia client will become more confident about having care, realizing that it increase the quality of life for both spouses. 

Every situation is different, so a best practice is to seek a evaluation or a nursing evaluation and create a plan of care that is based on the client’s wants, values and needs.  This way the wishes of the client are spelled out, his or her family have input, and a written plan is in place for everyone to follow.

It is also important to note that hiring professional care provider services can provide valuable ongoing support to an overloaded caregiver. A financial planner, care funding specialist or a reverse mortgage specialist may find the funds to pay for professional help to keep a loved one at home. A care manager can guide the family and the caregiver through the maze of long term care issues. The care manager has been there many times — the family is experiencing it for the first time.

An elder law attorney can help iron out legal problems. And an elder mediator can help solve disputes between family members. There are also cash benefits for Veterans, who served during a period of war, that pay for home care or assisted living.

If you are the one providing daily care for a loved one, you owe it to yourself to seek help. Take care of yourself and your needs, both physically and mentally.  Seek out professional help for caregivers that will ease your burden, and look for community service organizations that offer respite help.

The National Care Planning Council’s website www.longtermcarelink.net contains hundreds of articles with tips and advice for caregivers and their families.  Take a few minutes to find the help you need.