Dr. Dylan: Caregivers of Alzheimer’s Disease

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Caregiver stress is quite common- especially when it comes to caring for someone with Alzheimer’s Disease. We asked Dr. Dylan Wyatt, an Emergency Medicine Physician at St. Luke’s Hospital, how we can better manage the stress of caring for another person.

What kind of effect can being a caregiver have on your wellbeing?

Dr. Dylan: “Caring for anyone, adult or child, is a challenge and a privilege. Particularly being a caregiver for someone suffering from Alzheimer’s can be exhausting with the mental, physical, and emotional effects of the disease. The memory issues that are a hallmark of Alzheimer’s can wear down caregivers with constant reorientation and reminders, and as the disease progresses worsening decision making and impulsivity can mean a caregiver feels they have no rest and must constantly be alert. Depending on the advancement of the disease, the physical changes might necessitate caregivers to physically help move their patient – putting a strain on the caregiver’s body. Finally with the emotional changes seen in Alzheimer’s disease, patients can have personality changes or even become violent. For caregivers, this raises concerns for their safety and – if they knew the patient before the disease – can be so hard to process as the person who you once knew is lost to the disease.”

How can we make sure our own needs are met?

Dr. Dylan: “You cannot be the best possible caregiver if you are not looking after yourself. It’s important to keep an eye out for signs of burnout and to be honest about our emotions. Feeling resentful, a lack of empathy, being more frustrated – these are all signs for burnout. These are honest emotions – and we shouldn’t shy away from them but be honest they are occurring. Remember emotions themselves aren’t bad, it’s the actions we do with the emotions. If you notice you are feeling these things, it’s time to reach out for some help so you can take a break.”

Sometimes it can be difficult to ask for help- do you recommend we do that?

Dr. Dylan: “Asking for help is very hard. First, remember that you are not alone in how you are feeling. Remember the emotions you are feeling are normal and very human. Start small: perhaps with joining an online support group on social media or looking for a local in-person group for caregivers. Speak to friends and family – even if they are not in the area to give you time for a break they can help with other parts of care such as doctor’s appointment scheduling, medication management, or they can help look for resources in your area. You can also ask the patient’s doctor’s office for resources – they may also have some other ideas that can help.”

 What kind of resources do you recommend for caregivers?

Dr. Dylan: “If you need some time for yourself, there are day programs offered through many local clinics and care facilities that individuals with Alzheimer’s can attend – which can give caregivers some time for themselves while also providing good socialization for the Alzheimer’s patient. The Alzheimer’s Association has many resources that can be helpful across the northland for both patients and caregivers, as does Duluth Aging Support. Dementia Friendly Duluth also offers resources for not only caregivers, but also for other community members who want to potentially help our neighbors suffering from Alzheimer’s.”