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Published: Dec 3rd, 2017

Caring for Family Member with Alzheimer’s Requires Self-Care First

Caring for Alzheimer’s Requires Self-Care First

An estimated 5.5 million Americans of all ages have Alzheimer's disease. Of the estimated 5.5 million Americans living with Alzheimer's dementia in 2017, an estimated 5.3 million are age 65 and older and approximately 200,000 individuals are under age 65 and have younger-onset Alzheimer's.

The percentage of people with Alzheimer’s dementia increases dramatically with age: 

3 percent of people age 65-74, 17 percent of people age 75-84, and 32 percent of people age 85 or older.

Many people inflicted with Alzheimer’s or dementia did not have any advance plan like Long-Term Care Insurance. The impact is tremendous on the person’s family and assets. An older spouse or adult child or in-law by default become caregivers. This crisis management places a burden on the caregiver and impacts the lifestyle of the spouse if still living.

Often family members will become the primary caregiver. Once the responsibility becomes too great paid care goes in place. If you are finding yourself fin a situation of being a caregiver, or have a spouse who is being a caregiver their first responsibility should be to their own health and family.

Taking care of yourself—physically and mentally—is one of the most important things you can do as a caregiver. This could mean asking family members and friends to help out, doing things you enjoy, or getting help from a home health care service if the resources are available. Taking these actions can bring you some relief. It also may help keep you from getting ill or depressed.

Alzheimer’s disease caregivers are faced with a multitude of responsibilities when caring for a loved one suffering from the disease. The impact on caregivers lead to a variety of emotions, from guilt to anger, as well as have an effect on their own physical and financial well-being.

Remember, a caregiver’s own family responsibilities don’t end when you become a caregiver. Many caregivers still have a career, spouse, children and other responsibilities. The pressure on the caregiver’s family should also be considered. Often a primary family caregiver leaves their career since they are unable to find other family members to help. If money is short is can be a major concern.

If a spouse is taking care of the other spouse generally they are older and the impact on the caregiver spouse is even greater. While you can get angry that no advance plan was put in place, if you find yourself in the situation you must take action to reduce stress and maintain your own health.

The National Institute on Aging suggests the following ways to take better care of yourself:

  • Ask for help when you need it.
  • Eat healthy foods.
  • Join a caregiver's support group.
  • Take breaks each day.
  • Spend time with friends.
  • Keep up with your hobbies and interests.
  • Get exercise as often as you can.
  • See your doctor on a regular basis.
  • Keep your health, legal, and financial information up-to-date.

Cynthia Steel, RN, MPH encourages a caregiver to first take care of themselves and then to “share the care”. See her comments:

Many caregivers fail to ask for help. They either feel guilty about asking others to do things they feel are their responsibility or they think others will not be willing to help. In some cases, there are no other people available and money could be an issue as health insurance, Medicareand supplements do not pay for these services. Unless the person has Long-Term Care Insurance the cost may be an issue. Sometimes a person who has Alzheimer’s or dementia have a Long-Term Care policy but fail to make a claim since they feel they need to save it for “a rainy day”.

If the person with Alzheimer’s or dementia has a LTC policy make the claim and get the help. There is no legitimate reason to save benefits for the future if the need is now. Sometimes a policyholder dies with unused benefit since the family decided to “save it for later”. Make the claim and get the help you need to care for your loved one.

If no policy exists than don’t be afraid to ask for the needed help.

National Institute on Aging shares these tips about asking for help:

  • Remind yourself that it's okay to ask for help from family, friends, and others. You don't have to do everything yourself.
  • Ask people to help out in specific ways, like making a meal, visiting the person, or taking the person out for a short time.
  • Call for help from home health care or adult day care services when needed. To find providers in your area, contact Eldercare Locator:
  • Use national and local resources to find out how to pay for some of this help, or get respite care services if they qualify for these programs.

You can also join a support group of Alzheimer's disease caregivers. These groups meet in person or online to share experiences and tips and give each other support. Ask your doctor, check online, or contact the local chapter of the Alzheimer's Association:

Now think about what your plan is for addressing the financial costs and burdens of aging? What have you done differently than your elder parent or family member? The time to plan is before you retire as part of your overall retirement planning.

Address Long-Term Care now, before you retire. Here are some hints:

  • Consult a lawyer about setting up a living trust, durable power of attorney for health care and finances, and other estate planning tools. Keep in mind trusts won’t protect your assets from the spend-down requirements for Medicaid. If you have assets than you should consider ways to protect those savings. Learn about costs of care, Medicaid spend-down requirements and other state specific information in your state here:
  • Consult a Long-Term Care Insurance Specialist and see if you qualify for a LTC Policy. You will need to discuss your health, your family health history, your retirement plans and assets with this individual so they can make the appropriate recommendations. If you are in your 40’s and 50’s premiums are very affordable. Be sure to ask if a Partnership LTC policy is available. These plans provide additional dollar-for-dollar asset protection.
  • Speak with family and close friends to decide who will take responsibility for you if you suffer from Alzheimer’s or dementia or any other need for long-term healthcare. Even if you obtain a Long-Term Care Insurance policy plan on which family member or friend will work with the agent and insurance company when the time comes to make a claim. If no policy will exist, which family member will be responsible. Keep in mind, often people will say they will take on this responsibility not really understanding exactly what this responsibility is and how it will impact their own health and family.
  • Put together a record of your bank accounts and investments, property and other key information so make sure family knows where it is located. Keep this up-to-date.
  • Always take care of your health by having regular check-ups including required lab work. Some people say they feel fine, so they don’t think it is necessary. If you are over age 40 it is necessary. Women should make sure they have Mammograms and their bone density tests. Men should address prostate issues. Both men and women should not forget regular colonoscopies.

Being a caregiver is hard, for the person being the caregiver and their own family. Cost of caregivers is expensive and unless you have a Long-Term Care policy the costs of paid care come out of pocket and will impact your savings. An advance plan will reduce the stress and the burdens being a caregiver will have on an older spouse or adult child or in-law.

Avoid crisis management in the first place by planning in advance. If you are a caregiver take the time to take care of yourself and your family.