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What Every Alzheimer’s/Dementia Caregiver Must Know

By Kim Warchol, OTR/L, DCCT

(Page 1 of 5)

With over five million people in the US with Alzheimer’s/ dementia today and this number expected to grow exponentially every year, it is of vital importance to empower the family and professional caregivers with support and dementia care skills. Providing care that yields positive outcomes for both the person living with Alzheimer’s/dementia and the caregiver is very important and challenging. To help, I provide a few things every Alzheimer’s/dementia caregiver must know.

1. Obtain the necessary help and support

Whether a family or a professional caregiver such as a nurse, aide, or therapist, it is important to establish a dementia management team for expertise and emotional support. For example, the family caregiver should never feel or be alone. An important first step is to join a support group. The Alzheimer’s Association usually has a local list available and if needed, many of these groups make it easy to attend with your loved one with Alzheimer’s/dementia. They may offer an early stage group that is held at the same time as the family support group or they may have an activity for those with Alzheimer’s/dementia during the family support meeting. Also, the family caregiver should use the many professional resources available to receive critical advice and guidance throughout the journey. For example, there are Alzheimer’s diagnostic centers available to make a diagnosis and to provide medical treatment. In addition, that physician or a primary doctor may be able to refer an Occupational Therapist (OT) who specializes in dementia care. The OT can perform an assessment of the person with Alzheimer’s/dementia, analyze the caregiving and living environment situation, and provide ideas and education to improve safety, functional independence and quality of life. These are two examples of valuable resources that family caregivers must tap into early and often.

Similarly, professional caregivers and other healthcare workers shouldn’t provide dementia care in isolation, but instead, must use each other as a resource of knowledge, problem solving assistance, and emotional support. For example, the nursing aide should never be left alone to problem solve how to manage resistance to care or aggressive behavior expressed by a client with Alzheimer’s during a shower. Instead, the aide should have a method to communicate with his/her team members about the challenge in order to obtain support and to discover a solution. The dementia management team should include the Occupational, Speech and/or Physical Therapist, the physician, the nurse and others involved in the care of the resident/client.

Family and professional caregivers often experience stress and feelings of being overwhelmed or uncertain. Therefore, creating dementia management care teams in a facility or in the community is essential for all who are involved in providing care for those with Alzheimer’s/ dementia. The emotional support, advice, and knowledge derived from a team are critical for all caregivers to be as successful and stress-free as possible.

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