Guest Blog: Lisa Winstel, COO, Caregiver Action Network

November is National Family Caregivers Month: a time to rally in support of the 90 million Americans who provide care to loved ones, especially those facing the complex and exhausting challenges of Alzheimer’s.

Caregiver Action Network, a We Won’t Wait campaign partner, is spearheading National Family Caregivers Month with activities and outreach around the theme, “Take Care to Give Care.” This addresses a central dilemma for caregivers: providing care strains their own health, finances, and mental well-being. In response, Caregiver Action Network’s awareness effort encourages all caregivers to prioritize their personal well-being and calls on communities to share the care burden.

In this year’s Presidential Proclamation, President Obama echoes this message, saying that “our Nation was founded on the fundamental ideal that we all do better when we look out for one another...During National Family Caregivers Month, we reaffirm our support for those who give of themselves to be there for their family, friends, and neighbors in challenging times.”

Caregiving’s physical, emotional, and financial toll is especially severe for Alzheimer’s. These caregivers – two-thirds of whom are women – struggle with increased medical costs, disrupted careers, and compromised brain health. Responsibilities and costs mount as the disease progresses, often requiring around-the-clock care for a decade or more.

Fortunately, there are a range of proven strategies for a healthy caregiving balance. To manage the burden, caregivers can communicate with their support network, prioritize certain tasks, and delegate when possible. The essentials of wellness, such as nutrition, exercise, and rest, are doubly important for caregivers; they enable high-quality, sustained care, while mitigating health impacts. And for the unique behavioral and emotional changes that comes with Alzheimer’s, certain approaches can ease daily frustrations for both the caregiver and the person with Alzheimer’s.

Caregiver Action Network has published a useful set of tips, facts, and considerations for caregivers. Available here, they are:

·      Caregiving can be a stressful job. Most family caregivers say they feel stressed providing care for a loved one. With all of their caregiving responsibilities – from managing medications to arranging doctor appointments to planning meals – caregivers too often put themselves last.

·      The stress of caregiving impacts your own health. One out of five caregivers admit they have sacrificed their own physical health while caring for a loved one. Due to stress, family caregivers have a disproportionate number of health and emotional problems. They are twice as likely to suffer depression and are at increased risk for many other chronic conditions.

·      Proper nutrition helps promote good health. Ensuring that you are getting proper nutrition is key to help maintain your strength, energy and stamina, as well as strengthening your immune system. Maintaining a healthy diet is one of the most powerful things you can do to take care of yourself and keep a positive attitude overall.

·      Ensuring good nutrition for your loved one helps make care easier. As many as half of all older adults are at risk for malnutrition. Good nutrition can help maintain muscle health, support recovery, and reduce risk for re-hospitalization – which may help make your care of a loved one easier.

·      Remember: “Rest. Recharge. Respite.” People think of respite as a luxury, but considering caregivers’ higher risk for health issues from chronic stress, those risks can be a lot costlier than some time away to recharge. The chance to take a breather, the opportunity to re-energize, is vital in order for you to be as good a caregiver tomorrow as you were today.

These keys can power women and families during the Alzheimer’s journey. Please keep them in mind and share with your network, whether you are a caregiver yourself or know affected individuals. These tools are critical for maximizing the quality of Alzheimer’s care, while minimizing the impact on caregivers’ health and opportunities.