Monday, November 13, 2023 at 07:00
November is National Family Caregiver Month
Submitted by the Alzheimer’s Association
In New York, more than half a million people provide unpaid care to a loved one with dementia. National Family Caregiver Month is the perfect time to educate people about caring for people with dementia and ways to help.
Caring for someone with dementia is demanding: on average, these carers provide more care over a longer period of time than other carers. Published report The Alzheimer’s Association revealed earlier this year that dementia caregivers in New York provided 884 million hours of care, valued at more than $19 billion. And with a looming healthcare workforce shortage and more people expected to develop dementia in the coming years, the burdens facing dementia caregivers are growing.
People dealing with dementia often take on these responsibilities while balancing careers and children. It is not surprising that their physical and mental health deteriorates due to stress.
People dealing with dementia report higher rates of chronic conditions, including stroke, heart disease, diabetes and cancer than other people. In New York, 59% of caregivers reported at least one chronic health condition.
Dementia caregivers report higher rates of depression than caregivers of people with other health conditions. In New York, 24.7% of dementia caregivers reported having depression.
Amara May, Director of Outreach at the Alzheimer’s Association’s Western New York Chapter, said, “Caring for someone with dementia is a unique challenge. Caregiving tasks are intense, and you perform them while watching your loved one gradually lose memory and function. Our goal at the Alzheimer’s Association is to help reduce caregivers’ sources of stress and help them find effective self-care strategies.”
Debbie Gangemi of Hamburg helps her father, Richard, take care of her mother, Donna Brese, who has Alzheimer’s disease.
“It can get frustrating and stressful because of the unexpected,” she said. “Mom has a lot of good days, but you just can’t predict when a bad day will happen.”
There are a number of self-care strategies that caregivers can try to reduce stress. No one approach will work for everyone, so it’s important to find what works for you. Options include:
√ Talk to someone you trust. This could be a friend, family member, priest or counselor. The Alzheimer’s Association offers a 24-hour helpline, with dementia experts available at any time.
√ Go outside. Even just a few minutes outdoors can improve your mood, especially on sunny days.
√ Practice. Movement is a proven approach to improving mental and physical health. Try a neighborhood walk or a local fitness class, which has the added benefit of being social.
√ Try a mindfulness technique. Meditation, yoga, tai chi, and journaling are all mindfulness options that can reduce anxiety and depression and can even help reduce blood pressure and improve sleep quality.
Gangemi said she relies on her faith and family to help her cope with stress, while finding a healthy outlet through volunteering for the WNY chapter.
“When I work with the public on behalf of the Alzheimer’s Association, I hear about other people’s struggles and learn how they deal with them,” she said. “I know not to take anything for granted.”
The Western New York Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association offers free caregiver education, support groups and care planning meetings. Access these resources by calling 800-272-3900 or visiting alz.org/wny.