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August 24, 2022

How Dementia Affects Family and Friends: Reaching Out for Help

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 10 million people are diagnosed with dementia every year. As they learn to cope with their loved ones’ loss of cognitive function, countless family members and friends also become victims of the disease.

Many caregivers feel overwhelmed, especially as their loved one’s condition worsens. Aside from the physical demands, there’s also a great deal of mental and emotional strain that accompanies these responsibilities. Too often, family and friends don’t reach out for help, in some cases simply because they don’t know how to ask, or because they feel guilty for wanting to take some time off for themselves.

The WHO estimates that non-medical caregivers (mostly family members and friends) spend 5 hours per day providing care for people living with dementia. These caregivers often have jobs, young families, and other responsibilities they also need to juggle with.

If you’re caring for a loved one living with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, here is some advice to help you make it through these difficult times.

Seeking community support

Caring for a person with dementia can be isolating. You might feel like no one understands what you’re going through, and that you have nothing to complain about because you’re not the person whose health is declining.

You are not alone to feel this way – many people are in the same situation right now. Joining a support group can give you valuable information and resources on topics such as caregiving techniques, legal issues, medical conditions, and nutritional concerns. A support group can also put you in touch with community resources you didn’t know existed, like home health services and respite care professionals.

Perhaps most importantly, these groups give you a safe place to talk about how your loved one’s dementia is affecting you, with people who genuinely understand the effects of the disease.

Support groups are free and generally meet weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly. Some cater to specific needs and concerns. For instance, some are for romantic partners caring for their loved ones, while others bring together adult children caring for a parent. Some groups deal with early-stage dementia concerns, while others are for more advanced cases.

The Alzheimer’s Association has a comprehensive list of resources for family and friends on their website, as well as contact information for their chapters in New Jersey and across the country. Reach out for help finding a support group near you. 

The importance of asking for help

Dementia creates a lot of uncertainty for the ailing person and their loved ones. It’s common for family and friends to feel overwhelmed by the stress. You might worry about how you’ll afford 24-hour nursing assistance. You might feel guilty about wanting to move your loved one into a memory care facility. You most certainly worry about losing your loved one.

Handling these emotions alone can weaken your immune system and contribute to your own health problems.

In a recent study published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, researchers state that “dementia caregivers report higher levels of stress, more depression and anxiety symptoms, and lower levels of subjective well-being, self-efficacy, and anxiety.”

In addition, they experience worse physical health outcomes, including higher levels of stress hormones, compromised immune response, antibodies, greater medication use, and greater cognitive decline.

No caregiver should face Alzheirmer’s or any form of dementia alone. As the researchers conclude, “larger social networks, frequent social contact, and the ability to arrange for assistance from friends are moderators of depressive symptoms and caregiver burden.”

Memory care at Springpoint Living at Manalapan is a safe, supportive, and secure environment where individuals living with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia can find brightness every day. Contact us to find out more.

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