Are you a caregiver providing support for a spouse, friend, or relative? Even if your loved one is well cared for in memory care or assisted living facility, your responsibilities can take a toll on your health.
Taking care of yourself is one of the most important things you can do as a caregiver. Make sure you are making time for yourself, eating healthy foods, and being active. Finding some time for regular exercise can be very important to your overall physical and mental well-being.
Here are some ways for caregivers to be physically active:
- Take exercise breaks throughout the day. Try three 10-minute “mini-workouts” instead of 30 minutes all at once.
- Make an appointment with yourself to exercise. Set aside specific times and days of the week for physical activity.
- Exercise with a friend and get the added benefit of emotional support.
- Ask for help at home so you can exercise.
A new study has shown that because women normally score higher than men on tests of verbal memory, they may not be diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment as early as men. This can give many women a later start than they need in the treatment of Alzheimer’s. Even when they have the same levels of Alzheimer’s disease-related brain changes, such as the amount of amyloid plaque deposits in the brain or the amount of shrinkage in the hippocampus area of the brain, they are often not diagnosed accurately.
Using gender-specific scores on memory tests may change who gets diagnosed with "pre-dementia", or mild cognitive impairment (MCI). MCI, a precursor to dementia, is when people have problems with memory and thinking skills. The difference may be as high as 20%, with possibly more women and fewer men being diagnosed, according to a study published in the online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.
A simple thing can change your life—like tripping on a rug or slipping on a wet floor. If you fall, you could break a bone, like thousands of older men and women do each year. For older people, a break can be the start of more serious problems, such as a trip to the hospital, injury, or even disability.
If you or an older person you know has fallen, you're not alone. More than one in three people age 65 years or older falls each year. The risk of falling—and fall-related problems—rises with age.
Many Older Adults Fear Falling
The fear of falling becomes more common as people age, even among those who haven't fallen. It may lead older people to avoid activities such as walking, shopping, or taking part in social activities.
But don't let a fear of falling keep you from being active. Overcoming this fear can help you stay active, maintain your physical health, and prevent future falls. Doing things like getting together with friends, gardening, walking, or going to the local senior center helps you stay healthy. The good news is, there are simple ways to prevent most falls.
Causes and Risk Factors for Falls
Many things can cause a fall. Your eyesight, hearing, and reflexes might not be as sharp as they were when you were younger. Diabetes, heart disease, or problems with your thyroid, nerves, feet, or blood vessels can affect your balance. Some medicines can cause you to feel dizzy or sleepy, making you more likely to fall. Other causes include safety hazards in the home or community environment.
Scientists have linked several personal risk factors to falling, including muscle weakness, problems with balance and gait, and blood pressure that drops too much when you get up from lying down or sitting (called postural hypotension). Foot problems that cause pain and unsafe footwear, like backless shoes or high heels, can also increase your risk of falling.
Confusion can sometimes lead to falls. For example, if you wake up in an unfamiliar environment, you might feel unsure of where you are. If you feel confused, wait for your mind to clear or until someone comes to help you before trying to get up and walk around.
As they reach the end of life, people suffering from dementia can present special challenges for caregivers. People can live with diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s dementia for years, so it can be hard to think of these as terminal diseases. But, they do cause death.
Making Difficult End-of-Life Decisions for a Person with Dementia
Dementia causes the gradual loss of thinking, remembering, and reasoning abilities, making it difficult for those who want to provide supportive care at the end of life to know what is needed. Because people with advanced dementia can no longer communicate clearly, they cannot share their concerns. Is Uncle Bert refusing food because he’s not hungry or because he’s confused? Why does Grandma Sakura seem agitated? Is she in pain and needs medication to relieve it, but can’t tell you?
As these conditions progress, caregivers may find it hard to provide emotional or spiritual comfort. How can you let Grandpa know how much his life has meant to you? How do you make peace with your mother if she no longer knows who you are? Someone who has severe memory loss might not take spiritual comfort from sharing family memories or understand when others express what an important part of their life this person has been. Palliative care or hospice can be helpful in many ways to families of people with dementia.
Sensory connections—targeting someone’s senses, like hearing, touch, or sight—can bring comfort. Being touched or massaged can be soothing. Listening to music, white noise, or sounds from nature seem to relax some people and lessen their agitation.
When a dementia like Alzheimer’s disease is first diagnosed, if everyone understands that there is no cure, then plans for the end of life can be made before thinking and speaking abilities fail and the person with Alzheimer’s can no longer legally complete documents like advance directives.
End-of-life care decisions are more complicated for caregivers if the dying person has not expressed the kind of care he or she would prefer. Someone newly diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease might not be able to imagine the later stages of the disease.
Someone with Alzheimer’s disease may start rummaging or searching through cabinets, drawers, closets, the refrigerator, and other places where things are stored. He or she also may hide items around the house. This behavior can be annoying or even dangerous for the caregiver or family members. If you get angry, try to remember that this behavior is part of the disease.
In some cases, there might be a logical reason for this behavior. For instance, the person may be looking for something specific, although he or she may not be able to tell you what it is. He or she may be hungry or bored. Try to understand what is causing the behavior so you can fit your response to the cause.
You can take steps that allow the person with Alzheimer’s to rummage while protecting your belongings and keeping the person safe. Try these tips:
- Lock up dangerous or toxic products, or place them out of the person’s sight and reach.
- Remove spoiled food from the refrigerator and cabinets. Someone with Alzheimer’s may look for snacks but lack the judgment or sense of tasteto stay away from spoiled foods.
- Remove valuable items that could be misplaced or hidden by the person, like important papers, checkbooks, charge cards, jewelry, cell phones, and keys.
People with Alzheimer’s often hide, lose, or throw away mail. If this is a serious problem, consider getting a post office box. If you have a yard with a fence and a locked gate, place your mailbox outside the gate.
You also can create a special place where the person with Alzheimer’s can rummage freely or sort things. This could be a chest of drawers, a bag of objects, or a basket of clothing to fold or unfold. Give him or her a personal box, chest, or cupboard to store special objects. You may have to remind the person where to find his or her personal storage place.