All was quiet in the office that day—all but the questions and quandaries that had plagued their minds over the past year. The doctor’s confirmed diagnosis resolved one set of questions, raised another set of questions, and removed their hope for a better outcome. Nothing was unusual in the months that followed—pain persisted, friendships faded, isolation invaded, and delight in life dwindled.
What happened to this imaginary family is not an imaginary situation to many families today; it is reality. It might be your reality or the reality of a close friend. Whether Alzheimer’s disease has invaded your family or the family of a friend, medical reviews report that the increase in the number of people diagnosed with the disease has created a “sandwich generation,” with parents placed in the middle of raising their own kids and also giving at least 20–30 hours a week of unpaid time to caring for a disabled parent.
A 2011 study by the Alzheimer’s Association reports that 1 in 8 Americans, aged 65 and over, have Alzheimer’s disease. Because the care-giving demands are so high, more than 60 percent of family caregivers live with high levels of stress. Thirty-three percent report symptoms of depression. The big picture reveals that caregivers provide 17 billion hours of unpaid care, valued at $202.6 billion.[ref]“2011 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures,” Alzheimer’s Association (March 2011), http://www.alz.org/downloads/Facts_Figures_2011.pdf, accessed November 22, 2011.[/ref]
Candidly, families run the grave risk of becoming embittered over time because caregiving demands are high and potentially costly, and family and friends are often at a loss as to how to help. These factors, along with negotiating the complex maze of insurance and medical and nursing care, create a precarious predicament when a loved one is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
However, there are a few simple things you can do to help manage the stress and emotional roller coaster that comes with caring for an Alzheimer’s patient.
- Create a list of simple needs that others can meet for you, like running errands such as picking up pharmaceutical items or laundry, or helping transport the kids to their various activities, or cooking a meal. People desire to help; let them know how.
- Allow others to care for you. Plan outings and establish e-mail connections with others on a regular basis. Connect with someone who will sit and allow you to weep over what you are going through. Find someone who will attend doctor appointments with your family, someone who will be present. Visit Web sites for organizations such as the Family Caregiver Alliance (www.caregiver.org) and the Alzheimer’s Association (www.alz.org) for support and encouragement.
- Allow the Lord to soften your soul. It is still difficult for me to ask for and accept help—a sign of pride, not strength. I constantly have to remind myself of Peter’s comforting and challenging words: “Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6–7). The Lord cares for you and for your loved one with Alzheimer’s. Humble yourself before Him, throw your burdens on Him, and allow others to minister to you.
I wrote the majority of this blog shortly before my husband’s father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Now that we’ve received the news of his disease, we’ve decided to make him a blanket out of squared pieces of fabric. Each square will represent happy memories he’s had throughout life.
I encourage you, as a family, to draw near to each other. Remind each other that you’re in this together—that you’re on the same path.