Families: The “Invisible Second Patients” of Alzheimer’s Disease

alzheimers invisible second patientFor many reasons, the families of loved ones with Alzheimer’s disease are often referred to as the “invisible second patients.” Like their afflicted loved one, families live with the heartbreak of this destructive and progressive disease on a daily basis. Sadly, the ripple effect of Alzheimer’s within a household can be equally depressing and disruptive.

That said, the effects of Alzheimer’s disease can be particularly harsh on primary caregivers. In addition to dealing with the normal challenges of everyday life, caregivers must also provide round-the-clock care and support to their loved one.

According to experts, primary caregivers are often overburdened and thus experience high rates of physical illness, social isolation, emotional distress and financial hardship. As unfair as it seems, the price of their devotion to their loved one is often a poorer quality of life for themselves.

The Effects of Alzheimer’s on Family Caregivers

The professional article, “Family Caregivers of People with Dementia,” by Henry Brodaty, MD, provides clinical insight into the effects of Alzheimer’s disease on the family unit. Dr. Brodaty reviews some of the major areas where Alzheimer’s affects family members and states, “The effects on caregivers are diverse and complex.” They include:

Increased Risk of Physical Illness – Caregivers report a greater number of physical health problems and worse overall health compared with noncaregivers. Caregivers are at increased risk of various problems including cardiovascular problems, lower immunity, poor sleep patterns, slower wound healing and higher levels of chronic conditions such as diabetes, arthritis, ulcers and anemia.

Diminished Emotional Well-being – Levels of psychological distress are significantly higher in dementia caregivers than in other types of caregivers and noncaregivers. Caregiver stress can result in serious psychological problems, including depression and anxiety that should be treated immediately.

Increasing Social Isolation – Caregivers often lack social contact and support and, as a result, experience feelings of social isolation. Caregivers tend to sacrifice their own leisure pursuits and hobbies, reduce time with friends and family, and give up or reduce employment in order to devote time to their loved one.

Growing Financial Challenges – Costs associated with caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease are high. Direct costs include physician care, diagnostic tests, pharmaceuticals and personal nursing care. Indirect costs include loss of earnings by family caregivers as they relinquish or reduce employment and paid hours out of either choice or necessity.

Support for Caregivers Is Crucial to Everyone’s Well-being

Given the many challenges presented by a loved one with Alzheimer’s, adequate support resources are imperative for the individual providing the majority of the care. Experts say that a “safety net” of support can actually reduce anxiety for caregivers by “increasing the perception that resources are available to help handle the stressful situations.” Support can be found in many different forms including assistance with daily living needs and housework, emotional support and informational support provided by both health professionals and those who have experienced similar situations.

The latest technology-based support resources for caregivers are also proving to be of significant value. Today, technological assistance is available in many forms including: care coordination scheduling and management software, conference calling among family members, telephone support systems with automated messages, online discussion groups, electronic reminder services, computer-based forums with question and answer sessions and computer-based decision support modules.

In summary, Alzheimer’s disease can take a major toll on you and your family as well as your loved one with the condition. As a caregiver, you can easily become overburdened and overwhelmed and find yourself at serious risk of physical and emotional “burnout.” Therefore, it is important to take positive steps to safeguard your own health and, indirectly, the quality of care you are able to provide to your loved one. A comprehensive caregiver support plan should be created that includes partnerships with other family members, health professionals, key community resources (e.g. the Alzheimer’s Association) and other available support tools such as online assistance and care-supporting technologies.

Remember, your health and the well-being of your loved one depends on it!

For caregivers who recognize that the needs of their loved one are beyond what they can safely and appropriately provide in the home environment, leading residential Memory Care Assisted Living Communities (MCALs), such as North Woods Village at Edison Lakes and its “New Directions”SM program, provide the full continuum of services that have been shown to improve health and well-being, support brain health and delay the progression of memory loss from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

At North Woods Village at Edison Lakes, we believe senior adults thrive in an environment that offers an active, vibrant lifestyle with a variety of activities that engage the mind, body and spirit. Our “New Directions”SM provides a safe, professional environment and proven, best-practice programs and services specifically designed to address the total physical, emotional and social needs of individuals with Alzheimer’s, dementia or other serious form of memory impairment.

For more information on how North Woods Village can help you engage your loved one with Art Therapy, contact us today!