An estimated 5.5 million people in America are living with Alzheimer’s disease. The Alzheimer’s Association states that the number of people could increase to 16 million by 2050. Despite the prevalence of the disease, few people have access to financial and medical resources due to the linear nature of relationships between doctors and patients.
Resources for Caregivers and Patients in the Community
Kathleen Coatta, a social worker for Huntington Senior Care Network, recommends seniors and caregivers use the Alzheimer’s Association as a resource, especially when it comes to finding a local caregiver support group.
“You may also start with your local senior center — it is always an excellent resource for seniors and their caregivers,” Coatta says. “Most states have Area Agencies on Aging, then there’s always your place of worship, which is an embedded part of the community and can provide you with support or access to support groups.”
Family caregivers who are at a loss for how to get organized can consider hiring a private social worker who is an aging life care specialist. They are private practitioners who can help navigate the logistics of caregiving for a fee.
“If your loved one has been hospitalized for any reason, you can always ask to have a social worker come talk to you before your loved one is discharged,” says Coatta. “Social workers can provide you with excellent local resources, and they have access to a variety of information you might not know about.”
Coatta says the most common complaints she hears from caregivers is that they don’t have time to care for themselves, and they don’t know who to ask for help. “Managing your own care and a family member’s care is incredibly challenging,” says Coatta. “Not making any time for yourself only makes it worse. You cannot best care for a loved one if you don’t care for yourself.”
The bottom line: The more help you can get during your experience caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia, the better.
Alz Café Offers Information and Education About Alzheimer’s and Dementia
When Renee Concialdi took over Right at Home in Pasadena, California, it was important to her that she keep the Alz Café program her predecessor had started to support those in the community living with Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Held on the second Friday of every month at the Pasadena Senior Center, Alz Café features an expert speaker on a variety of topics that are relevant to those affected by the disease. Coatta is one of the experts who spoke at Alz Café recently; she talked about the benefits of self-care for caregivers.
“Alz Café sprung up out of this idea that there should be a comfortable environment for people dealing with Alzheimer’s and dementia to come and connect with experts who can provide information and education about the disease,” says Concialdi. “We don’t call it a support group — it’s more of an educational and informational event with Q&A at the end.”
Concialdi compared raising children with caring for aging parents, pointing out that you shouldn’t tackle either one on your own. You need help in both capacities to do the best job. Her Alz Café program also offers education around the importance of exercise and nutrition. Keeping both mind and body active and healthy can help slow further cognitive decline.
Mentally and verbally stimulating interactions can be particularly beneficial to those who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Everything from engaging in puzzles to playing cards to art-related activities like painting, drawing and sculpting can all have a big impact.
“Being physically active can help, too,” says Ginny Delgatto, Client Care Administrator for Right at Home Pasadena and Program Coordinator for Alz Café. “It doesn’t have to be anything big. Even just going out for a walk — anything that prevents you from becoming sedentary.”
Delgatto also recommends that Alzheimer’s patients continue to pursue hobbies and interests as much as possible even after receiving a diagnosis. “There’s no reason to abandon the things you love,” she says. “You just have to find some new ways to incorporate them into your life.”
Hilary Young is a writer dedicated to helping older Americans live healthier, more fulfilling lives. She currently blogs for HuffPost50, Fifty Is The New Fifty and Medical Guardian. You can find her on Twitter as @hyoungcreative.