Breakthrough Patient Recruitment

: Caring for the Caregiver: A Volunteer’s Experience with Alzheimer’s Disease

Caring for the Caregiver: A Volunteer’s Experience with Alzheimer’s Disease

Global Content Strategist

Several years ago, I volunteered at an assisted living center for people with Alzheimer's disease. And, although it was some time ago, the experience is still with me. It has impacted my life. As a health communicator, I understand the importance of care giving for others, but as a volunteer, I learned the importance of caring for the caregiver.

I recall the joy I experienced when a resident who I took for a walk or shared a cup of coffee with would reward me with a smile. I recall delightful little chats about their childhood memories. I recall hugs and kisses when their families came to visit.

I also look back on the nights of returning home and feeling desperate about my limited ability to help. I recall feeling scared during an angry exchange between two residents. And I can still feel the sadness of a resident refusing to see his or her family because they did not remember them.

Caring for someone with Alzheimer's disease is often a long, stressful, and intensely emotional journey. My experience is deeply personal; however, it is also an experience I share with many other caregivers and volunteers. And that is why I think it is essential that we educate ourselves about caregiving to ensure we can maintain joy during hard times.

Hands

 

Let's take a look at ways in which we can improve a caregiver's experience …

Learn from others - Although we often care for others in our everyday lives, we are not born as caregivers for specific situations. I was of course not born as a caregiver for individuals with Alzheimer's disease. There are excellent resources available to caregivers from advocacy groups, workshops, libraries, online videos, and training resources and websites, such as Caregivers.com. Learning from the experiences of others is not just smart, it is empowering. Being well versed on the disease helps the caregiver adjust as the challenges of each particular situation change.

Manage stress - Whether for an hour a day or around-the-clock, caregiving increases stress levels. One should learn about ways to manage stress. This is a personal preference, but some of the ways to reduce stress may include exercise, meditation, maintaining a diary, or improving emotional awareness (for example, therapy sessions).

Build a support network - Although education and self-care are important, it is also valuable to invest time into connecting with others. Often, it helps to join people with similar experiences, as sharing may help reduce feelings of isolation and hopelessness. Talking and socializing (for example through a support group) can boost confidence and extend one's relationships.  

While I volunteered, I was lucky to be surrounded by skilled caregivers from whom I could learn. Today, as I look back on my experience, I appreciate the effort that goes into caring for another human being. There are emotions. There is despair. There is joy. There is confidence. And I truly believe that through ongoing education, stress management, and a strong support network, the caregiver's experience can be made more positive.

 

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