Helping Families Cope - A new guide for Dementia's forgotten Heroes
There are currently more than 40,000 people in Ireland with some form of dementia. But behind the headlines there are another 50,000 people whose lives are also affected. They are the forgotten heroes of Alzheimer's disease and other memory related conditions: the family caregivers who work each day caring for loved ones who are no longer able to care for themselves.
By the very nature of the disease, most of the people who suffer from dementia are aged over 65, the sector of the population which is increasing most rapidly. Unless there is a medical breakthrough, by 2036 the number of people with dementia in Ireland is expected to increase by more than 300 per cent, while the total population increases by less than 40 per cent. Since relatives are the primary source of care for Irish seniors this means that caregiving will become a fact of life for a much greater number of people.
For the carers, stress is a constant. When they eventually burn out, emotionally or physically, the lives of those they are caring for often follow suit. While many outreach efforts target the sufferers of dementia, there is little available to help the caregiver who may feel isolated and overwhelmed by their responsibilities.
That's why Home Instead Senior Care has published a new information guide specifically for carers of people with dementia. In addition to explaining some of the basic facts about the different forms of the condition, it looks at practical ways of dealing with some of the most common issues associated with the disease. It also gives an insight into how the dementia sufferer feels and reacts to certain situations so the carer can understand their sometimes frustrating or bizarre behaviours.
In addition, the guide directly addresses some of the issues facing the caregivers themselves. "It's normal for a caregiver to feel stressed, frustrated and even irritated by their loved one but they frequently feel tremendous guilt as well and this adds to their stress", explains Ed Murphy, Chief Executive Officer of Home Instead Senior Care in Ireland . "They need to know these are perfectly natural responses to an incredibly difficult situation.
"Every day we see the role stress plays in the lives of family caregivers who are trying to do too much with too few resources", he says. We realised there was a need for information specifically for them. We already have a large volume of practical information available which we use for our specialist Alzheimer's and Dementia Care training programme for our CAREGivers. It made sense for us to utilise this and present it in a way that would be useful to the family members involved in providing care. Just seeing in print some of the problems they face on a daily basis and knowing they are not alone can be of enormous benefit to people".
The free information guide, "Helping Families Cope" covers issues such as communication and activities as well as some of the conditions associated with dementia including confusion, repetitive questions or phrases, aggression, wandering or pacing, incontinence, paranoia and more. It also outlines some of the legal planning which should be considered at the time of the initial diagnosis.
"There is also a section on Caring for the Caregiver which we consider to be just as important as caring for the loved one", says Ed Murphy. "It is estimated that half of all Alzheimer's family caregivers experience depression. They also frequently have personal health issues, complications in the workplace, fatigue and stress with other family members that result in conflicts and less leisure time. The guide suggests ways to reduce these stresses by either working with other family members or, if necessary, looking for specialist help from outside the family circle".
A website has been created by Home Instead Senior Care to support and expand on the messages of the booklet, www.caregiverstress.com. "Signs of caregiver stress can be both physical and emotional and include disturbed sleep, headaches, weight fluctuation, fatigue, anxiety and mood swings", according to Ed Murphy. "To gauge their level of stress, family caregivers should log on to www.caregiverstress.com and complete the 20 question online stress assessment survey. Their responses will determine what recommendations are made regarding support caregivers may need for themselves, including advice, tips and resources".
"A caregiver who doesn't take care of themselves can't care properly for others", he says. "This means eating well, getting adequate rest and exercise, keeping up with their own medical appointments and reaching out when they need help. This is often easier said than done so carers should talk with their GPs, community health services and care organisations such as Home Instead Senior Care to find out what help is available to benefit both patient and caregiver".
A free copy of "Helping Families Cope" is available from any Home Instead Senior Care office in Ireland.
Senior Safety Checklist
Many family members presently caring for an older relative started doing so because the senior had an injury, illness or medical condition that left him or her less able to function independently.
Each year, many older people are injured in and around their homes - often from hazards that are easily overlooked, but easy to prevent. By spotting these dangers and taking simple steps to correct them, many senior injuries can be prevented, and family caregivers can have extra peace of mind.
Below is a list of the top 10 safety issues commonly witnessed by Home Instead Senior Care professional caregivers in hundreds of senior homes around Ireland:
1. Loose area rugs/tripping hazards
2. No "life alert" or other pendant emergency-alert system
3. Spoiled food in the refrigerator
4. Lack of safety bar in bathtub/shower
5. Shower within tub or no walk-in shower
6. Lots of clutter/furniture make mobility difficult
7. Steep steps
8. Low supply of food
9. Poor lighting
10. No telephone near the bed
Family caregivers should walk through their relative's home to make sure none of these hazards are present, and work with the senior to make he or she feels safe, depending depend on the type of physical limitations this person has and how severe they are. Acquiring the necessary assistance, such as non-medical home care and safety-proofing your loved one's home, will put all family members at ease.
There are other issues, such as depression, poor nutrition, death of a spouse, isolation or loneliness that can further compromise the older relative's physical and mental health in a short period of time. Sometimes, the older person just needs company - someone to talk to or with whom to share their day.
It is crucial that family members keep an eye out for their older loved ones and know how and when to assist them, even if the senior doesn't reach out and ask for the help directly.
Home Instead Senior Care was established in Ireland in 2005 to bring practical, cost effective and above all, kind and compassionate non-medical care to elderly and disabled people who wish to remain living in their own homes. Services, including specialist Alzheimer's disease and Dementia Care services, are available from a few hours a week up to 24 hours per day, depending on requirements. There are currently 17 independently owned and operated franchise offices in Ireland.
Home Instead Senior Care is approved by the HSE, the cost of service is VAT exempt and subject to tax relief at the higher rate which means the average client opting for 15 hours of general assistance per week will end up paying around E200. For further information please contact your local Home Instead Senior Care franchise office.
A free copy of 'Helping Families Cope' is available from any of the 17 Home Instead Senior Care offices in Ireland.