November is National Caregiver Month
The physical, mental, and emotional stresses of Alzheimer's disease insidiously infiltrate the daily routines of those affected, often without warning. Although significant strides have been made in the prevention and treatment of the disease, bringing us incrementally closer to a cure, we cannot overlook the profound tribulations and suffering of those afflicted, as well as the distress endured by their loved ones.
Frequently, it is the silent sufferers — the caregivers — who are in dire need of care and attention. These individuals often retreat into the shadows, with little recognition or acknowledgment of their own pain.
If you are a caregiver, do not succumb to feelings of isolation or guilt that arise from the emotional tumult caring for someone can elicit. Experiencing stress, overwhelm, anger, or depression is part of the normal spectrum of human emotions. It is vital to acknowledge that you, too, require support. Do not hesitate to articulate your needs or to seek help. Admitting that you occasionally need a break is also perfectly okay. Prioritizing time for your own mental health is not just advisable; it's essential. Consider reaching out to professionals for one-on-one care, or join local support groups where you can connect with those in similar circumstances and speak openly. It's equally important to communicate with other loved ones about how they might assist you.
Feeling and acknowledging your emotions is not indicative of weakness, nor does it reflect the measure of your love for the person with Alzheimer's disease. Protecting and preserving your own emotional well-being is just as crucial because, in a very real sense, you are also living with the disease.
For those who find themselves on the periphery, supporting a caregiver, strive to comprehend their needs and listen intently. Inquire about how you can be of assistance and make sure they know you care. However, instead of extending a generic offer of help, propose specific tasks you can undertake. For example, ask if you can handle some errands, water their plants, or prepare some nutritious meals. You might offer to arrange for exercise classes or a personal trainer who can visit their home. Alternatively, consider taking over the caregiving responsibilities for a few hours, granting the primary caregiver some much-needed personal time.
Alzheimer's disease doesn't just impact the individual diagnosed; it ensnares numerous victims in its wake. As we persist in the quest for a cure, let us also commit to supporting those caregivers who endure silently, often forgotten in the narrative of this devastating disease.
Domenico Praticò, MD, holds the position of the Scott Richards North Star Charitable Foundation Chair for Alzheimer’s Research and serves as a Professor and the Director at the Alzheimer’s Center at Temple, as well as a Professor of Pharmacology at Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University.