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Remember to Care for the Caregivers this
December 9, 2011-- More five million
Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s
disease or another form of dementia and
over 70 percent of those individuals are
cared for in their homes by a spouse or
other family member.
Stress, anxiety and burnout are never far
from the doorsteps of these caregivers as
they often juggle the responsibilities of
providing daily care with the added demands
of working, maintaining a household, or
raising children. The holiday season can
intensify these daily burdens, but too often
caregivers don’t know how to ask for help
and friends and family members aren’t sure
of how to lend a hand.
“Caregivers will say ‘no’ when offered help
because they worry it will reflect poorly on
them or because they ‘don’t want to bother’
others. And some caregivers get so attached
to their role that just can’t let go,” said
Nancy Alterman, a licensed clinical social
worker with the New Jersey Institute for
Successful Aging at the UMDNJ-School of
Osteopathic Medicine. “The holiday season is
a great time to put some gentle but
persistent pressure on those caregivers you
know who could probably use a little help.”
If you know a family member or close friend
who is a caregiver, Alterman offers the
following suggestions to help ease that
• Be sensitive about visiting by calling
ahead to schedule a time that is convenient.
But if the caregiver routinely declines
offers of a visit, you may need to just show
up…with special foods or an easy activity
like a puzzle.
• Avoid bringing a crowd, but visiting with
at least one other person gives the
caregiver a chance to go out with a friend,
knowing that another trusted person is there
for the patient’s needs.
• Instead of asking, “What can I do?” offer
to grocery shop, go to the post office, do
laundry or cook a meal that you can bring
• Be a good listener. Whether in person or
by phone, sometimes just having a contact to
the outside world is all the caregiver needs
to help cope with that day’s burden.
• Be alert for signs of caregiver stress,
such as denial, social withdrawal,
sleeplessness or lack of concentration.
• Offer to spend the night so the caregiver
can get some rest. Lack of sleep can quickly
lead to a deteriorating situation or a
health crisis. Make sure the caregiver and
the patient are discussing any sleep issues
with their primary care physician.
• Research adult medical day services in
your community and share that information
with the caregiver. These medically
supervised programs can actually help extend
the time that the patient can remain at
“If you are a caregiver, be prepared for the
added demands of the holiday season and
remember that you are not a failure if you
accept an offer to help,” Alterman said.
“You can help family and friends help you by
being prepared with some specific
suggestions when they ask, such as
appropriate gifts for your loved one or a
task you routinely do.”
Alterman also recommends that caregivers ask
family or friends for the gift of time,
either watching over the patient so that the
caregiver can get away for a few hours or
helping to arrange in-home care.
“If you can, ask a close relative or friend
to stay with your loved one for a few days
while you take a mini-vacation. A quick trip
to the seashore or the mountains can help
rejuvenate you for the days ahead.”