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November is National Family Caregiver’s month

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

In the poem, Untitled by Carol Dix, she states, “I look into your face, Your eyes stare into space, I try to search deep into your soul, To find the man I once knew, But he is not there.  The emptiness goes beyond compare. Where are you..? I ask. Where have you gone..?” Dix speaks to the millions of caregivers who witness Alzheimer’s, dementia, and other chronic diseases steal away their loved ones.  If statistics run true, more and more of us will be caregivers to loved ones with Alzheimer’s or dementia.  According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 5.3 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s, including an estimated 200,000 under the age of 65.  By 2050, that number will reach 16 million.  Within the next ten years, 19 states will see a 40% or greater growth in the number of people with Alzheimer’s.  Those sobering numbers illustrate how taxing this disease is on society, the patients, and those who care for them.  

November is National Family Caregiver’s month, a time to concentrate on the services and support available to caregivers. The job of caregiving is tiring, stressful, and at times painful emotionally and financially.  The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that nearly 60% of caregivers rate the stress of caregiving as high or very high; about 40% suffer from depression.  Due to the physical and emotional toll of caregiving, Alzheimer’s and dementia caregivers had $9.7 billion in extra health care costs of their own in 2014. In addition, 15.7 million family and friends provided 17.9 billion hours of unpaid care to those with Alzheimer’s and other dementias.  These numbers can be staggering but there is hope and help for caregivers. Knowing the stages of caregiving and your resources can assist you during this time of transition.

Just as the patient with Alzheimer’s or another chronic disease will go through stages, so too, will the caregiver.   Your role will change from being a care partner to a caregiver.  As time progresses and the loved one depends more and more on you, it is important to take care of yourself.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers this advice to caregivers:

Keep up with your own medical care. Don't skip regularly scheduled preventive care, such as flu shots or mammograms.

Make sure to get enough rest. Your ability to give care can be lessened by inadequate sleep.

Continue or start to get regular physical activity. In addition to a variety of benefits for your physical health, regular physical activity is one of the best stress reducers available.

Continue to nurture your own social relationships. A strong social network can help you cope with stress and provide support.

Reach out for help when you need it. Get acquainted with your local support services.

Locally, there are events and services available for caregivers.  On Saturday, November 7, 2015, from 10 am to 2 pm, Noyes Health in conjunction with the Mental Health Association, and the Livingston County Office for the Aging will hold the 6th Annual Caregiver Retreat.  The event will take place at the Celebrate Family Church in Leicester and is free of charge for caregivers and includes a complimentary lunch.   Speakers and local experts on caregiving will be there to encourage, strengthen, and re-charge caregivers. Topics will range from successful aging to powers of attorney to long term care planning.  Registration is required and residents from Livingston County and surrounding counties are invited.  Call 585-335-4358 or email: caregiver@noyeshealth.org to register.  

Also available locally is the Noyes Caregiver Resource Center, a collaborative effort between Noyes Health and the Livingston County Office for the Aging.  The center comes alongside family caregivers in Livingston County and provides them with the support they need to meet the challenges that come with caring for someone at home with Alzheimer’s, dementia, or another chronic health condition.  The Caregiver Resource Center supports caregivers by providing information and assistance, education, support groups, and respite care services.  Caregivers often neglect themselves and suffer with high rates of stress-related illness that can affect their ability to be successful caregivers.  Taking care of yourself and learning about resources is vital to the patient, the household, and the caregiver.   

For more information on the Noyes Caregiver Resource Center or if you are interested in volunteering to provide respite services for caregivers, call 585-335-4358 or email: caregiver@noyeshealth.org.  

Lorraine Wichtowski is a community health educator at Noyes Health in Dansville.  If you have questions or suggestions for future articles she can be reached at lwichtowski@noyeshealth.org or 585-335-4327.  

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