Helping Families Cope with Alzheimer’s

May 2, 2019

Alzheimer’s disease continues to threaten our elder population, affecting almost 6M seniors in the US. With someone in this country diagnosed every 65 seconds, chances are you know a friend or neighbor caring for an affected family member. It can be heartbreaking and even paralyzing to watch people you care about struggle with the effects of Alzheimer’s. Often we’re caught between wanting desperately to help with  memory care and not having the first idea of what to do. Here are some ideas on how to lend a hand without adding to a family’s burden:

  1. Find a helpful point of contact. Rather than potentially disturbing an overwhelmed caretaker, is there someone in the family or a close friend handling all help requests? Do your best to quickly identify that person so as not to burden busy caregivers unnecessarily.
  2. Give with no strings attached. Well-meaning gestures that end up adding to the family’s to-do list only defeats the purpose. If you drop off a meal, bring food that requires minimal work to enjoy. Use disposable containers you never need to see again. Clear a walkway and take your shovel back home with you.
  3. Make your offers simple and specific. “Let me know if you need any help” only puts the burden back on the caregiver. Instead, make offers clear and concise. “I’m heading to the grocery store today; let me know what I can pick up!” “My lawn crew finished up early – can I send them over to bag up some leaves for you?” Alzheimer’s caregivers face countless decisions each day – the best thing you can do is offer help they don’t need to think about.
  4. Consider subbing in. Caregiver hours can be punishing, and burnout is huge. If you feel comfortable doing so, offer to sit for a few hours while your friend does an errand or gets a haircut.
  5. Stay in touch. It can be difficult to approach a family dealing with such a serious illness, but don’t let that stop you. A simple text or email checking in, a pretty sunset photo, an encouraging quote you find online – all are examples of small gestures that can go a long way towards making caregivers engaged in memory care feel less isolated and more supported.
  6. Lend an ear. Sometimes all caregivers need is some time to talk, process, and vent. The simple act of sitting, listening, and affirming is a huge gift you can give them – no advice or prior experience necessary. Offer to drop by during naptime or to take them out for a quick cup of coffee if that’s realistic.
  7. Be persistent, not insistent. Often Alzheimer’s caregivers are too overwhelmed to respond – don’t take it personally, and don’t give up on them. Try a different approach if your first few attempts fail (emailing instead of texting, for example). Drop something off unobtrusively if that’s appropriate. Above all, use points of contact that don’t require a response – calling or dropping by unannounced isn’t helpful and can even be upsetting.

Want to learn more? Head to Caregiver for more information on how you can help. You could also take a look through our Caregiver’s Toolbox – it’s packed with tips to ease the caregiver’s journey.

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