Social Worker Darby Morhardt advises Alzheimer's disease caregivers who are coping with rapid changes occurring in their lives.
Caring for somebody in your family who has Alzheimer’s disease is really complicated, and what I would like to say is, and I am really quoting a colleague of mine, is that, if you have seen one person with Alzheimer’s disease, you have seen one person with Alzheimer’s disease. The symptoms are very, can be very different and variable from person-to-person.
Same with the family and how they cope with this illness. When you have seen one family caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease, you have seen one family. And so that, as a healthcare professional, I need to get to know you as a family member and also your history of how you have got, what has shaped you as a person, and how your family works together, how they communicate with each other, and how in the past you have communicated with the person you are now caring for.
And that is going to have a lot to do with how you end up coping with the changes that are happening. Because your basically, this is a neurodegenerative disease. You are losing the person over a very long period of time in a very slow, subtle way, but that loss, how you deal with that loss, and how anyone deals with loss, can be very different from person-to-person.
So it is important that you recognize how you can best cope, what helps you take care of yourself. Most people find that they need to get some time away to do that and to rejuvenate and to re-energize and to take care of themselves. So, finding that time to do that requires finding someone else to care for your loved one, and those are services that abound in this country and are not as well used, and that’s one of the big questions a lot of researchers have had over the years is, “Why aren’t these services being used by caregivers?”
Once they are used though, and research is demonstrating that caregiver’s depression is eased, their mental health becomes better, and also, it delays the placement of the person into a nursing home because that caregiver isn’t so stressed out and get so burned out that they can no longer care for that person any longer.
About Darby Morhardt, M.S.W., L.C.S.W.:
Darby Morhardt is a research associate professor, the Director of Education, and a clinical research social worker at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Her research interests include early stage and Younger Onset dementia programs and services, the dynamics and functioning of caregiving families, the subjective experience of Alzheimer's disease, and primary care physician education.