Caring for an aged and sick parent has many joys and satisfactions. However as one’s beloved family member’s disease progresses, life becomes more difficult, both for the sufferer as well as for his or her caregiver. This is very much the case with dementias such as Alzheimers. Meaningful Minds Psychologist Ethelwyn, discusses this topic further.
Understanding the disease -
THE SEVEN STAGES OF ALZHEIMERS
Seven major clinical stages have been identified in the progression of Alzheimer’s Dementia:
The person is fully independent and may not be aware that they have Alzheimers.
There is continued independence with the beginning of some memory troubles which, however, are not evident to others.
The individual’s work quality may decline and they may have difficulty learning new skills. They are susceptible to developing anxiety or denial as they confront difficulty remembering the right words and names; getting lost on familiar routes; being unable to remember what they have just read; misplacing or losing valuable objects; and a decreasing capacity to concentrate.
The person struggles further with a decreasing awareness of current or recent events; loses memory of aspects of his or her personal history; experiences difficulty with handling their finances and bills and is unable to count backwards from 100 in 7s.
The afflicted will remember only his or her own names and those of close family members. He or she will be confused around time and place; forget their address; major events and weather conditions; and be unable to count backwards. The individual with Alzheimer’s requires a great deal of support from their caregiver during this stage as the confusion experienced by the sufferer may lead to feelings of anger and suspicion.
From Stage Five the burden on the caregiver becomes more marked as the family member suffering from this form of dementia requires assistance with self-care; needs a nappy as he or she will have lost control over his or her bladder and bowels. Memory over current news and life events will have worsened even more. He or she will be unable to count backwards and may manifest with personality changes. The symptoms are quite terrifying as the person fears being alone; may experience suspicion; paranoia; frustration; shame; fidgeting; and stuttering. Particularly worrying for the caregiver is that they may sleep more during the day and wander around at night.
This is the final stage. The individual’s ability to respond to the environment is lost; he or she requires assistance with everything; and is likely to be immobile. Sufferers often die from pneumonia.
If a family has sufficient funds, the sufferer may be placed in a good care facility. One has to be certain of the good reputation of an institution as there is the danger that the parent involved will suffer from significant neglect and be unable to report this to their family.
LOOKING AFTER THE PARENT AT HOME
Keeping the parent at home will, in most instances, ensure that they receive love and care, however the burden for the caregiver may become immense as the disease progresses.
In addition to the effort required in dealing with the day-to-day living needs of the parent, the caregiver may also have unresolved emotional issues with him or her. There may be unanswered questions, perhaps even a childhood history of neglect or abuse. It is very difficult to come to terms with the fact that these issues can no longer be addressed if the parent’s memory is sufficiently impaired.
Furthermore, if the caregiver felt unloved or less loved by this parent, the latter’s loss of memory as to the identity of the caregiver, may be wrongfully read as added evidence of their lack of value to their parent. This may be particularly the case if the parent still recognizes his or her other children or other family members.
If the caregiver is married, the marital relationship may be at risk of being compromised, particularly if the caregiver no longer has time to enjoy doing pleasurable activities and entertaining with his or her spouse.
Other feelings that have been identified in caregivers are:
Denial: difficulty acknowledging how the disease is impacting the caregiver’s loved one;
Anger: frustration at the parent’s inability to complete tasks they were able to complete before;
Sleeplessness: difficulty sleeping as a result of anxieties and concerns related to the parent’s health and care;
Anxiety: worrying whether he or she is able to provide sufficient support;
Depression: losing the motivation and desire to care; and
Exhaustion: finding that dealing with daily tasks is overwhelming.
It is accordingly recommended that the caregiver:
1.Obtains as much help as possible, whether from another family member or a paid caregiver (the more additional caregivers the better);
2.Makes use of the additional caregiver or caregivers to allow for rest, recreation and connecting with a partner and other family members;
3. Learns as much as possible about the condition and ensures that the other caregiver also understands the disease;
4.Finds a support group in order to obtain additional emotional support as he or she navigates the growing challenges presented by his or her parent’s disease;
5.Obtains supportive counseling.
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