GREENSBORO, N.C. — November is National Alzheimer's Disease Awareness Month and National Family Caregivers Month. The purpose of each campaign is to educate the public about the life-altering disease as well as provide ongoing support to caregivers.
Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia. It’s a progressive disease beginning with mild memory loss possibly leading to loss of the ability to carry on a conversation and respond to the environment. Alzheimer’s disease accounts for nearly 80% of dementia cases.
In 1983, President Ronald Reagan designated November as National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. At the time, fewer than 2 million Americans had Alzheimer’s. Today, more than 5 million people are living with Alzheimer’s. By 2050, this number is projected to grow to more than 14 million.
Statistics show more than 16 million Americans provide unpaid care for people with Alzheimer’s or other dementias. These caregivers provided an estimated 18 billion hours of care valued at nearly $244 billion.
Unfortunately, caregivers frequently report experiencing high levels of stress. That includes denial, anger, social withdrawal, anxiety, depression, sleeplessness, irritability, and more. Health experts say caregivers should protect their mental health and manage stress properly.
The Alzheimer’s Association offers the following ways for caregivers to manage stress:
- Know what community resources are available. Adult day programs, in-home assistance, visiting nurses and meal delivery are just some of the services that can help you manage daily tasks. Use our online Community Resource Finder or contact your local Alzheimer's Association® chapter for assistance in finding Alzheimer's care resources in your community. Use Alzheimer’s Navigator, our free online tool that helps evaluate your needs, identify action steps and connect with local programs and services.
- Get help and find support. The Alzheimer's Association's online Care Team Calendar helps you organize friends and family who want to help provide care and support. Our 24/7 Helpline (800.272.3900), ALZConnected online community and local support groups are all good sources for finding comfort and reassurance. If stress becomes overwhelming, seek professional help.
- Use relaxation techniques. There are several simple relaxation techniques that can help relieve stress. Try more than one to find which works best for you. Techniques include:
- Visualization (mentally picturing a place or situation that is peaceful and calm)
- Meditation (which can be as simple as dedicating 15 minutes a day to letting go of all stressful thoughts)
- Breathing exercises (slowing your breathing and focusing on taking deep breaths)
- Progressive muscle relaxation (tightening and then relaxing each muscle group, starting at one end of your body and working your way to the other end)
- Learn more about relaxation techniques on the Mayo Clinic website.
- Get moving. Physical activity — in any form — can help reduce stress and improve overall well-being. Even 10 minutes of exercise a day can help. Take a walk. Do an activity you love, such as gardening or dancing.
- Find time for yourself. Consider taking advantage of respite care so you can spend time doing something you enjoy. Respite care provides caregivers with a temporary rest from caregiving, while the person with Alzheimer’s disease continues to receive care in a safe environment. Learn more about respite care.
- Become an educated caregiver. As the disease progresses, new caregiving skills may be necessary. The Alzheimer's Association offers programs to help you better understand and cope with the behaviors and personality changes that often accompany Alzheimer's. You may also find it helpful to talk to other care partners and caregivers about how they are coping with the challenges of the disease and uncertainty about the future.
- Take care of yourself. Visit your doctor regularly. Try to eat well, exercise and get plenty of rest. Making sure that you are healthy can help you be a better caregiver.
- Make legal and financial plans. Putting legal and financial plans in place after an Alzheimer’s diagnosis is important so that the person with the disease can participate. Having future plans in place can provide comfort to the entire family. Many documents can be prepared without the help of an attorney. However, if you are unsure about how to complete legal documents or make financial plans, you may want to seek assistance from an attorney specializing in elder law, a financial advisor who is familiar with elder or long-term care planning, or both. Learn more about planning ahead.
For more information about National Alzheimer's Disease Awareness Month and National Family Caregivers Month, visit the Alzheimer's Association website.