As anyone with a loved one with Alzheimer’s can tell you, the disease (or any other form of dementia) is a family diagnosis. The effects of the disease extend beyond the individual to their primary caregiver and everyone who loves them. As a loved one slowly faces the increasing challenges of memory loss, family members must learn to cope with new responsibilities, changing family dynamics and their varying emotional responses to their loved one’s disease.
“Alzheimer’s disease affects everyone it comes in contact with, especially the close family members of a person with the disease,” says Nancy Clanton, Community Relations Director at Tuscan Gardens® of Venetia Bay in Venice, FL. “Families facing an Alzheimer’s diagnosis should help each other – and consequently their loved one – by sharing information about the disease, taking on the tasks of caregiving and finding sources of support throughout this journey.”
Effects on the Caregiver
For the primary caregiver, Alzheimer’s disease may have as great an impact on their daily life as it does on the loved one they care for. The role of caregiver not only affects how the person spends their time but also their overall health and well-being. Full-time caregivers often suffer from stress, depression, high-blood pressure and other physical ailments brought about by the exertion and exhaustion of providing constant care unless they take good care of their own mental and physical health.
Whether the primary caregiver is the spouse or adult child of their loved one with Alzheimer’s, the alterations that caregiving causes in the relationship can take their emotional toll. A spouse may struggle with the loss of intimacy brought on by the disease and a child may face the challenges of caring for someone who used to be their greatest source of support. While Alzheimer’s disease alters these close relationships, it’s important for caregivers to find help and support to take care of their own needs as well as their loved one’s.
Changes in Family Relationships
The effects of Alzheimer’s disease aren’t only felt by the immediate family members of an individual, but by extended family and close friends as well. Family members who don’t see the loved one regularly might not understand how seriously the disease has impacted them. Some family members may shy away from the loved one and their caregiver because they are unsure of what to say or how to act.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the best thing a caregiver can do to involve their family in their loved one’s life is to take the initiative to talk to them, teaching them how the disease has changed their lives, sharing updates on their loved one’s health and asking for help when it’s needed.
How Families Can Cope with Their Loved One’s Disease
Each family member may react to their loved one’s Alzheimer’s disease in a different way and have individual hurdles to overcome in order to cope with the new normal of their relationship. While every relationship is different, memory care experts willingly share their ideas for helping families remain as close to their loved one as possible.
According to Nancy Pearce, MS, MSW, author of the article “Helping Families Affected by Alzheimer’s,” family members not only need to understand the effects of the disease on their loved one, but also need to find ways to stay open and connected to their loved one in order to heal the emotional burdens the disease has caused.
In addition to seeking professional or group support, Pearce suggests a few emotional strategies that family members can try in order to begin coping with their loved one’s Alzheimer’s:
- Allow Time to Grieve – Some family members may struggle with denial, holding onto the hope that their loved one will somehow get better and begin acting like their self again. Denial is usually a defense against the painful feelings of loss. However, acknowledging the loss of a cherished relationship and allowing time to grieve fully can give family members the opportunity to accept their present circumstances and find new ways to connect to their loved one.
- Hold on to Long-Term Connections – One way to cope with the pain of your loved one’s disease is to hold on to important memories that are significant to the relationship. If a daughter of a woman with Alzheimer’s focuses on her mother’s
life-long devotion and love, it’s easier for the daughter to reciprocate that love when she visits her mother. Remembering who the person was before their Alzheimer’s can help families connect and care for them as the disease progresses.
- Remember the Significance of the Relationship – Remembering the influence that the person with Alzheimer’s has had can offer great comfort to family members. Often, we look to our parents, grandparents or spouse as individuals who have helped make us who we are today. Approaching a loved one with this in mind can keep a family member’s mind focused on gratitude rather than loss, and allow them the emotional peace they need in order to continue to connect with their loved one.
- Express Love – Although putting aside painful emotions isn’t easy, science suggests that expressing love (rather than grief or frustration) can have a physical effect on the people around us. Research by the HeartMath Institute in Boulder Creek, CA, shows that positive emotions, such as compassion, joy and love, produce smooth rhythms in our hearts, which leads to stress-reducing hormones, an increased immune system, better brain function and clear thinking. Negative feelings of stress, anxiety and despair cause jagged heart rhythms.
Our heart rhythms create electromagnetic signals that can be felt (subconsciously) by those close to us. Our emotions have a physical impact on ourselves and the people we share a room with. For family members spending time with a loved one with Alzheimer’s, this knowledge translates to an exciting way to promote your loved one’s happiness and health just by being with them and showing them love.
Your Resource for Family Support
“At Tuscan Gardens of Venetia Bay, we understand the heartache that comes with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia,” shares Clanton. “Our community was built upon the values and aspirations we have for our own families’ well-being, and many of us have witnessed first-hand the familial trials that Alzheimer’s brings with it.
“We are here to help seniors living with memory loss as well as their family members however we can. Whether you and your family are looking for dignified memory care for a loved one, resources on care techniques or simply a community of support made up of compassionate people who understand what you’re going through, Tuscan Gardens can help you find just what you need.”
The Art of Living
At Tuscan Gardens® of Venetia Bay, we’ve mastered the art of living. We’ve perfected the balance of personalized support and an uplifting lifestyle, helping our residents experience independence, joy and meaning every day.
Offering supportive independent living, assisted living and memory care services for families in Venice, Florida, Tuscan Gardens of Venetia Bay was founded with one simple, yet profound goal – to create a community worthy of our parents. In all we do, we are guided by the principles of family, culture and engagement, working to represent the remarkable way of life our families deserve.
Luxury, intimacy, opportunity, passion and beauty combine to create what the Italians call sprezzatura – a culture of effortless elegance. The essence of our community is made up not only of mere aesthetics, but an artfully designed lifestyle to bring out the best of what each day has to offer. From dedicated care that respects residents’ individuality and dignity to a lifestyle that nurtures their love of life, Tuscan Gardens was built to be more than just a residence, but a place to call home.