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How We All Can Help Prevent Isolation Among Dementia Caregivers

Gina Roberts-Grey

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For over two decades, Gina Roberts-Grey has pored over studies and interviewed leading health experts on topics ranging from healthy aging, caregiving and longevity. Having been an active caregiver to her grandparents who lived into their 90’s, Gina is passionate about supporting caregivers through their journeys. Her work has been featured in publications like Woman's Day, AARP, Oprah, Neurology Now and many more.

Five simple ways we can all help alleviate the social isolation that often comes with caring for someone with dementia.

Dementia is a process that isolates both the person diagnosed and their caregiver. A person with dementia slowly loses their ability to interact with others in the same way they always have, and as a result the person starts to stay home more often, needing more around-the-clock supervision. As a result, their caregiver’s isolation can set in not only because they are now staying home more often, but also because caregivers can lose their identity outside of their care role and relationship.

It can be difficult to know how to get the support you need while caring for a loved one with dementia. However, there are many ways to connect with dementia caregivers and remind them they’re not alone.

Call Without Judgement

Caregivers need someone to talk to that can empathize, who will not try to offer suggestions to caregiving problems or struggles. Those caring for someone with dementia often feel as if they are doing things wrong, and you telling them to do it differently just makes them feel worse. Checking in to serve as a sounding board or compassionate ear to vent to is very beneficial to a caregiver’s emotional and mental well-being and social interaction.

Although it may be tempting, don’t try to offer solutions to the caregiver’s problems unless specifically asked. “Don’t minimize problems that are being shared by saying “We all forget,” or “I know exactly what you mean, when my dad got sick…” etc.,” adds Gayatri Devi, a board-certified neurologist, Director of the New York Memory and Healthy Aging Services at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City and author The Spectrum of Hope: An Optimistic and New Approach to Alzheimer’s Disease and other Dementias. “Listen and empathize.”

And call often! It’s common for people to check in a lot when a person is first diagnosed with dementia or transitions into around-the-clock care. But too often, those calls eventually drop off.  The early stages of the disease process are emotionally draining for a caregiver, and as the disease progresses, the caregiver takes on more and more responsibility that prevents typical social interaction. People initiating calls to check in help bridge that gap between caregiving and the outside world.

Bring the Outside World In 

Those caring for a parent with dementia at home might feel guilty or nervous about leaving their loved one to eat dinner out with a friend or go to a movie. But you can bring those social engagements to a caregiver, says Rebecca Axline, LCSW, clinical social worker at Houston Methodist’s Nantz National Alzheimer Center. “Prepare a gift basket with gift cards for restaurants that deliver to their home, a subscription to a streaming service like Netflix or Hulu or a stack of the current issues of magazines,” she suggests.

This allows the caregiver the chance to take a break from the routine of preparing meals, and connect with aspects of current social culture like television shows, movies, and more.

Promote Self-Care

Axline says another option is an ‘indulgent’ basket of lotions, bath soaps, nutritious snacks or a gift card for a massage. “Include a coupon to stay with the loved one when the caregiver takes a break for a massage.”

Or schedule a “friend’s manicure or massage” for you and the caregiver to enjoy an hour or two of pampering while a trusted friend or family member provides care to the person with dementia. “Caregivers stop making time for themselves,” says Devi. That can lead to feeling insecure about their appearance or level of self-care. But Devi says taking a dementia caregiver out for a day—or few hours—of pampering allows for laid back social interactions and a boost of self-confidence.

Share a Meal

Meals can be challenging for families when a person is diagnosed with dementia. It’s not uncommon for a person to become apathetic and decrease verbal communication which makes meals for the care partner less enjoyable.

Ease the emotional toll by asking the caregiver what his or her favorite meal is and then surprise them with take-out you share with them, and the loved one they care for (if possible).

When you’re cooking, make an extra batch to freeze (either pre-cooked or uncooked in the case of foods like lasagna, etc.) in disposable containers the dementia caregiver can have on hand for days when cooking from scratch is too challenging to tackle.This can help ensure a nutritious and delicious meal is always possible.

Take over Menial Tasks 

Think of all the little things that burn up chunks of your time and offer to do them for the caregiver. Just be specific with how you offer support. For example, taking their trash cans to the curb, offering to bring in their mail, taking the car for a wash or oil change, and more.

“Call the caregiver and say, “I’m bringing over dinner for four tonight, so that’s one less thing on your plate” or, “Send me a list of groceries you need and I’ll tackle your shopping as I do my own”,” says Valarie Drown, LMHC and Project Coordinator, Alzheimer’s Disease Caregiver Support Initiative.

For more tips on how to juggle life and caring for dementia, check out our latest piece here: http://homecareassistance.com/blog/three-tips-daughters-juggling-life-dementia-caregiving.

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