Care for the Alzheimers caregiver: Lonely and overwhelmed

Feb 5, 2020

By: Michael and Constance Wentworth Guest columnists for Globe Gazette

“One is the loneliest number …”

One of the recurring themes during our Caregiver Support Group meetings is the feeling of loneliness and being overwhelmed dealing with a loved one who is no longer the person they once were and the knowledge that they never will be again. For most of our group members, the loved one being cared for is a spouse.

Perhaps the loved one is no longer able to carry on a conversation in any detail or is simply not interested anymore in the subjects for which they used to be so passionate. They know or sense something is wrong with their memory or their ability to choose the correct word or phrase. They may hesitate engaging in a conversation or making comments for fear of saying the wrong thing or not knowing what to say at all. This behavior serves to heighten the caregiver’s feelings of “aloneness” even though they continue to live with their loved one. They are losing, forever, the person with whom they once shared all their thoughts, dreams, laughs, and even tears.

On a more positive note, you may find that you can build a new relationship with your loved one. It may not have the closeness of familiarity, but there are other types of activities to engage in that may be very satisfying to both of you. Perhaps periodically going out to lunch with friends will be a special treat. Even something as simple as a car ride on a sunny day to places your loved one used to enjoy or listening to their favorite music can be a wonderful way to spend time together. You may be pleasantly surprised with the meaningful conversations these activities might generate. Music has been shown to be a tremendous uplifting, mood altering experience for loved ones with Alzheimer’s. These new activities can be a respite from your sense of sadness, loneliness and loss.

If your loved one was the person in the family who was the decision maker that everyone depended on to be their rock, this becomes a major change in the family dynamic. Perhaps you, as the caregiver, were never responsible for handling the finances, outdoor chores, taking care of getting vehicles serviced, or scheduling household maintenance appointments. Now, besides your caregiving activities, you find yourself responsible for all of these additional duties (and more!) and perhaps you are feeling ill-prepared as well as a little unnerved.

Now is the time to let others help you. Your children and other family members may hesitate to get involved, not wanting to intrude in your private matters, and perhaps are simply waiting for an OK from you. Friends may ask what they can do – when they ask, take them up on their offer and give them the opportunity to help you! Even if you are a very private person, sharing some of the information about what your loved one is going through and how it is affecting you and your family, can be a healthy and beneficial conversation. Your openness in reaching out to friends will serve to relax them and put them more at ease with the situation. As a result, they will feel more comfortable with interacting and helping you and your family.

You may discover a new sense of confidence in your ability to handle your new responsibilities. Additionally, you and your family members may become closer as you form a stronger bond traveling together on this caregiver journey.

We won’t sugarcoat it. We know there will be days when you want to just sit at home and cry and not leave the house and wonder how you will ever get through this. That’s where we come in! Our Support Group is here to help!

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, “support groups mean different things for different people. Some may come to gain a better understanding of the disease, because they are in crisis or because they have specific caregiving challenges. They may also be looking for advice on a particular subject or just wish to be with people who are experiencing similar feelings.”

At times, because people involved in day-to-day caregiving may feel over-whelmed and tired, they find excuses for not joining a Support Group: “I’m not a group type of person,” “I can’t leave my loved one alone,” “I can’t talk to strangers” or “I have enough problems of my own without having to listen to someone else’s.”

We want to assure you that we understand your hesitation and want to give you some reasons why joining a Support Group such as ours is an option you should most definitely consider. At our meetings you will meet and be able to listen to and speak with other friendly, compassionate caregivers who are also dealing with this heartbreaking disease first-hand. We can assure you that our caring members will be just as concerned about your particular circumstances as they are of their own situations. If you choose not to speak, but, just listen during a meeting, we certainly will respect your decision. All meetings are treated with the utmost in discretion and privacy.

We invite you to join our Alzheimer’s Support Group on the third Wednesday of each month from 6 pm to 8 pm at the Kentucky Ridge Assisted Living Facility, 2060 S. Kentucky Ave. in Mason City.  Please feel free to bring a family member or a friend.

If your concern is about leaving your loved one home while you attend our meeting, Mason City has a free service that allows caregivers to get much needed help for personal time such as appointments, running errands, visiting friends or attending our meetings. Respite Companion Group was formed to provide a short-term, non-medical break, or “respite” time to caregivers. You are encouraged to contact them by calling 641-812-2613 for additional information.

Don’t face being an Alzheimer’s caregiver alone. Come to a meeting and talk about it. Take the first step in supporting and caring for yourself!

Give your mom or dad the best gift!

Everyone loves a thoughtful gift no matter when it’s given. Show your mom or dad how much you care with the gift of a Care Friend and the individualized care and attention they’ll provide. It’s a gift that keeps on giving and one that he or she deserves!