How Will Your Role Change When Your Spouse Is Diagnosed With Alzheimer’s Disease?

Even if the news of the Alzheimer’s diagnosis for your spouse did not come as a complete surprise, the day you hear those words still feels like a hard kick in the stomach. As you both take some much needed time to try to get a grasp of this big change in your lives, your spouse may begin to feel a sense of loss or loneliness as a result of the diagnosis.

Immediately, with the words of the Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis, your role as spouse has changed significantly. You are now a daily caregiver too, and as your partner’s memory declines you may find yourself taking on some tasks, such as handling the taxes or financial matters or doing some household chores. Although you may not be the one with the disease, you will be living with it each day also. You may even notice a change in the emotional and physical intimacy you once shared as your partner’s cognitive abilities decline.

HealthStar Home Health is honored to be an official sponsor of a new film about Alzheimer’s titled His Neighbor Phil, which was filmed in the small community of Zumbrota, Minnesota. This film tells the story of Harvey, a man whose wife Mary has early onset Alzheimer’s disease. This touching film not only shows the effects of this disease on Mary, but also their entire family and the community they live in. Although the film deals with the honest realities of Alzheimer’s, it mainly focuses its attention on the tireless work of the caregivers and how their lives are also affected by this disease. Take a moment to watch this short video clip via Vimeo about the moving film His Neighbor Phil.

 

According to the Alzheimer’s Association there are some things you can do to help your partner. Ultimately, these ideas will also help you cope and get through these changes to your relationship:

  • Continue to participate in activities with your spouse
  • Find new activities you can do together
  • Attend local caregiver support groups
  • Discuss changes in your relationship with a professional or a clergy member

These ideas and others listed on the Alzheimer’s Association website will help you and other family members adjust to your new normal.

You may find yourself with so many new caregiving responsibilities that you neglect taking good care of yourself. One of the best things you can do for your partner is to stay physically and emotionally strong and avoid caregiver burnout. It can be overwhelming at times to take care of a loved one with Alzheimer’s, so keeping the stress under control is key and will help both of you. Remembering to see your doctor on a regular basis, stick to your exercise routine and eat healthy each day will greatly reduce stress levels and help to avoid caregiver burnout.

The Alzheimer’s Association lists 10 symptoms of caregiver stress including:

  • Denial
  • Sleeplessness
  • Anxiety
  • Lack of concentration
  • Depression
  • Health problems

As many as 70% of families are opting to care for their loved ones at home as long as possible while managing the various stages of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. It will get overwhelming, so if you are experiencing these signs of stress or others on a regular basis, it is time to see your doctor.

Memory loss screenings are the first step of detection and treatment. HealthStar Home Health provided free memory screenings while at the 2015 Minnesota State Fair and we are thrilled to announce we provided over 3,200 free screenings to visitors at our booth in the HealthFair 11 building. That is more than 1,000 more than last year’s state fair screenings! HealthStar knows how important early detection is and we are committed to providing the resources families need. For additional information on dementias and caregiving, visit our website at www.healthstarhomehealth.net.

Listen to Daniel Roebuck, star of His Neighbor Phil, discuss more about Alzheimer’s disease and this important film.

Memory Concerns? Take a Proactive Approach

Our health care model transitioned to an innovative, proactive approach over the past several years. A focus on the areas of diet, exercise, preventative clinical services, and a high emphasis on monitoring areas of concern is shifting the way care is delivered. While strides have been made in these areas, it is rare that changes to one’s memory are met with such a proactive approach. So often today outreach for support is not initiated until a critical event such as financial loss, exploitation, wandering, or failure to thrive has occurred. As a comprehensive provider of home health care, HealthStar Home Health knows firsthand that early detection of memory issues leads to early intervention, and the ability for family to plan together.

The reasons for ignoring memory changes could include embarrassment, denial, and fear, so it is understandable why many may fall into this critical misstep. A typical response from an individual who notices changes to his or her memory is to hide the problem, concerned that a diagnosis of Dementia or Alzheimer’s disease in inevitable. Those close to that individual may harbor similar fears as well. This perpetual cycle makes it difficult to enter into tough dialogue, often resulting in the memory issue developing quietly but profoundly.

What is not well known is that there are many causes for memory loss, many being curable and treatable if recognized early. By regularly integrating memory screenings Health Care professionals can become a catalyst for change and construct critical conversations with their patients around memory concerns. While a memory screening will not diagnose a memory issue, it is the first step in identifying a problem and it will subsequently trigger further diagnostic testing. We need to encourage and empower all those who have concerns that they or their loved ones are experiencing memory changes to discuss those concerns with their health care providers and request memory screening.

If further diagnostic testing reveals a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or other Dementias, remember, the benefits of earlier diagnosis include improved management of the disease, ability to treat and mange co-existing conditions, and the opportunity to help patients and their families plan ahead. Caring for loved ones with Alzheimer’s or Dementia has a huge impact on their care partner’s ability to achieve work-life balance. According to the coalition for Preparing Minnesota for Alzheimer’s, working caregivers report their caregiving responsibilities affect their work. 57% report arriving to work late. 17% have taken a leave of absence. 10% switch from full-time to part-time hours. 9% left the work place completely as a result of their caregiving responsibilities. The average cost to U.S employers of full-time employees who are caregivers totals $33.6 BILLION per year in lost productivity. (Preparing Minnesota for Alzheimer’s , 2011). These staggering numbers identify a critical need for supporting caregivers to manage their stress through education, training, and supportive services.

In 2013, HealthStar Home Health, in collaboration with C&V Senior Care Solutions, integrated a comprehensive home care program called Becoming an Alzheimer’s Whisperer. Paid completely through the Medicare home care benefit, Becoming an Alzheimer’s Whisperer supports the person, the caregiver and, the family to manage the diagnosis and the challenges that surround it. Becoming an Alzheimer’s Whisperer teaches families to understand how the disease affects the brain and enable the caregiver to enter the world of the person who has dementia or Alzheimer’s. Caregivers are trained to handle behaviors which include uncooperative behavior, agitation, aggression, wandering, sun-downing, sexually acting-out, dressing and bathing difficulties, eating difficulties, repetitive behaviors, and more. The program incorporates a multi-disciplinary approach and utilizes Skilled Nurses, Occupational Therapists, Physical Therapists, Social Workers, and Speech Pathologists. It uses standardized evidence-based teaching and assessment tools, and is based on the theory of Retrogenesis, developed by Dr. Barry Reisberg. Retrogenesis means “back to birth”, which concludes that Alzheimer’s unravels the brain almost exactly in reverse order as the brain developed from birth. This foundational understanding provides a method of creating approaches, environments, and techniques based on the developmental stage that correlates with the stage of dementia. The patient and the Caregiver will demonstrate competent self-care skill management of Alzheimer’s disease including a full range of behavioral, physical, social, and spiritual implications of this disease in order to remain safe at home.

By initiating supportive services upon diagnosis or at the initial onset of problematic behaviors, families receive help before it reaches crisis level. This proactive approach can successfully increase the quality of life for patients and their families affected by this dynamic disease.

-Shannon MacKenzie
Area Manager
HealthStar Home Health