Memory illnesses like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease affect more than just the individual. The impact extends to family and close friends as well – so much so that families have been called “the invisible patients” of Alzheimer’s.
“Progressive memory loss from dementia, Alzheimer’s disease or another memory impairment can impact family life in many, many ways,” says Erica Labb, Executive Director of Bridges® by EPOCH at Westford. “It’s absolutely life-changing. Family members end up having to juggle their existing lives, plus the increasing need for care that their loved one requires, plus the emotions that come with all that and so much more. It’s exhausting, and many people aren’t prepared for how it will affect them.”
Dealing with Emotions and Feelings
Family members and caregivers may already expect some of the changes that will be required once a loved one is diagnosed with Alzheimer's. What many aren’t prepared for, says Erica, are the psychological effects. “Families and caregivers can experience a range of different emotions from guilt to anger and more. Many times, these issues don’t get addressed because it seems like there’s always something more important to do, or it would take away time from your loved one. However, a big part of caregiving is taking care of yourself, too. In order to remain healthy yourself, it’s important to recognize these emotions and react to them in a healthy, beneficial way.”
Here are some of the most common feelings family members and caregivers may feel when a loved one is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s:
- Guilt. Unfortunately, guilt is a common thread that gets woven through much of the caregiving process. There are lots of things you may feel guilty for. Guilt for how you’ve treated your loved one in the past, guilt for not noticing the issue sooner, guilt for feeling embarrassed by your loved one … the list goes on and on.
- Grief and loss. Alzheimer’s disease has been referred to as “the long goodbye,” and many family members go through a grieving process similar to what they would experience when a loved one passes away. Grief can take many different forms and you may end up grieving a variety of different things: the loss of your loved one’s abilities, the loss of your relationship, the loss of a future together. Every person grieves in their own way, and you may end up grieving at a variety of different times throughout the Alzheimer’s journey.
- Anger and resentment. It’s easy to feel angry and frustrated, especially when you’re feeling helpless to change the situation. You may be angry at having to serve as a caregiver (quickly followed by feeling guilty … these two emotions often go hand in hand). Or you may be angry at other family members who aren’t helping out as much or who aren’t “pulling their weight.” You may also get angry at your loved one with dementia and their behaviors.
The Effects of Alzheimer’s on Families and Caregivers
While it may be a relief to know that your feelings are normal and you’re not the only one experiencing this, these emotions are just one of the ways Alzheimer’s affects family members. The disease can have physical, emotional and mental effects on family members that, if left untreated, can lead to a poorer quality of life for you – and, as a result, your loved one as well.
- Increased Risk of Poor Health. Caregivers often report a higher number of physical health issues and worse health overall compared to non-caregivers, including cardiovascular problems, poor sleep patterns, slower ability to heal from injury, a lowered immune system and an increase in symptoms or risk of chronic diseases like anemia, arthritis, ulcers and diabetes.
- Low Emotional Well-Being. Stress – like the kind caregivers experience on a constant basis – causes anxiety, depression and a heightened level of psychological distress. These problems can become exacerbated if left untreated.
- Loneliness and Social Isolation. Increased stress, depression and responsibilities can cause caregivers to withdraw from social events, leading to loneliness and social isolation.
- Financial Difficulty. Caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease is not cheap. Even if your loved one has prepared financially, there may be expenses that family members incur. Some family members have to reduce or quit their employment in order to care for their loved one, which results in lost income and more financial stress for their immediate family.
Tips for Families
Erica says that it’s important for families to understand the difficulties that may arise and do their best to prepare for them. “By knowing what you’re up against and understanding the resources available, you can make this journey less stressful.”
- Ask for help. The biggest thing families can do is make sure that one person isn’t taking care of everything on their own. Sit down with your family and talk to them about how they can best help. One person may wish to handle the financial side of things while others can split up caregiving roles. If at any point you feel like you need help, ask! Other people won’t know how to help if they don’t know there’s a problem.
- Keep everyone informed. Whether you write a weekly email, text or set up a phone tree, keep the lines of communication open. By having everyone in the loop, it will be easier to understand what’s happening and how everyone can help.
- Take care of yourself. Take it from Erica. “It’s essential to remember that you and your health are just as important as your loved one’s. Taking care of yourself will make you a better caregiver, family member and supporter.”
While the journey of Alzheimer’s disease isn’t easy, it can be a fulfilling and rewarding time as long as you have the support and resources to help smooth your way. You may also wish to connect with a memory care community like Bridges® by EPOCH at Westford. We are dedicated to supporting family members and those caring for loved ones in their home. Our educational programs and support are available free of charge to our community. We can also help you if and when you wish to discuss the benefits that a dedicated memory care community can provide you and your loved one.
If you would like more information about the impact Alzheimer’s has on the family, or want to learn more about our innovative dementia care programming, please contact us at 978.692.9541.
Innovative, Wellness-Focused Memory Care.
Bridges® by EPOCH at Westford provides assisted living memory care that is comfortable, positive, safe and engaging. Exclusively dedicated to caring for those with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia or memory impairment, we’ve created a wellness-focused lifestyle that promotes dignity and individual preferences. Our memory care professionals receive specialized and ongoing training designed to help residents maximize their independence in a secure, calm environment – making a truly positive impact on the lives of our residents each and every day.
At Bridges® by EPOCH at Westford, we know no two residents are alike. That’s why we’ve designed our services to address the distinct challenges each resident faces. With comfort, safety and fulfillment as our top priorities, our all-inclusive approach offers unmatched personalized attention, no matter the stage of memory loss.
Bridges® by EPOCH at Westford features a beautiful residential design. Every inch has been thoughtfully designed to enhance the lives of those with memory loss. Soft colors, directional cues, aromatherapy and interactive life stations are placed throughout the community to create a peaceful and secure environment so residents may enjoy great comfort, familiarity and security.
Call us today at 978.692.9541 to learn more about Bridges® by EPOCH at Westford or to schedule a personal tour.