How to share the load

Alzheimer's is a progressive disease with symptoms that get worse over time. Shouldering the load yourself can diminish the quality of the care you provide. If you're the primary caregiver for your loved one, talk to your family about sharing some of the responsibility.

To prevent caregiver burnout, it's essential to reach out for support, too. Here's help getting started:

  • Be realistic. Alzheimer's caregiving is demanding. There's only so much you can do on your own. Remember that asking for help doesn't make you inadequate or selfish.
  • Pay attention to timing. A friend who is tired or stressed out might not be able to help. Consider asking someone else or waiting for a better time.
  • Test the waters. Request help. Avoid watering down your request by saying things like, "It's only a thought."
  • Suggest specific tasks. Keep in mind a list of ways you need help, so you'll be ready with suggestions if someone offers. Perhaps a neighbor could do some yardwork or pick up your groceries. A relative could sort bills or fill out insurance papers. A friend might take your loved one for a daily walk.
  • Consider abilities and interests. If a loved one enjoys cooking, ask him or her to help with meal preparation. A neighbor who likes to drive might be able to provide transportation to doctor appointments. A friend who enjoys books might read aloud to your loved one.

You might worry that no one will be willing to help you, but you won't know until you ask. Although some people might say no, remember that most of your friends and loved ones probably want to help, but simply don't know how.

When to seek outside help

If you can't get enough help from your friends and relatives, take advantage of community resources. You might enroll your loved one in an adult day program, both for the social interaction the program will provide your loved one and the caregiving respite it'll provide you. You might also consider working with an agency that provides household help or assistance with daily tasks. Counseling services and support groups also can help you cope with your caregiving duties.

Remember, Alzheimer's caregiving can continue for years. Think of the process as a marathon, not a sprint. Marshal your resources and find every bit of assistance available so that you can conserve your strength for the journey. In the long run, you'll be helping your loved one as well as yourself.

Mar. 01, 2014 See more In-depth