What’s the right time to ask for help if you're an Alzheimer's caregiver?


This Ask Rachael Post is for our Caregiver Community.

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A guest post by Zara Lewis


In my wonderful family, we all love and support each other; however, as it often happens, most of the important tasks are entrusted to a woman, in this case – me. My mother-in-law is at the end-stage of Alzheimer’s and I’ve been caring for her (with just a little help from my husband) for a decade. 

Spending time with her, I’ve been constantly trying to reach past the murkiness of this horrible disease and find at least a glimpse of liveliness in her eyes. But there is nothing, a void, not a single moment of recognition on her face. She is helpless, her imagination is dead.  It’s heartbreaking, every moment of it – and I’ve finally admitted to myself that I can no longer do this alone.

You are not a bad person

Caregiving is demanding and there’s only so much you can do alone; additionally relying on someone else doesn’t make you selfish, inadequate or egotistical. 

While a caregiver may think that sharing the load is giving up on the person they love – no, it is not. There is nothing wrong in asking for help. In fact, no matter who you are, what your financial situation is or what you’ve accomplished – when you’re dealing with a parent (or anyone else you love so much) with Alzheimer’s, the only thing to think about is how to help them. Forget about potential judgment, prejudice, intolerance: focus on the now and all the help you can get.

Care together

As you (probably) already know, Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease that’s getting worse over time. To a caregiver, ALZ is a highly demanding task which is both emotionally and physically challenging and it often takes up more energy than you have. While your love for the patient may trigger guilt if you are not the only person engaged in “helping”, you need to be realistic: if you are the only one shouldering the load, the quality of the care you provide will be diminished. 

To prevent caregiver burnout, especially if you’re the primary caregiver for your loved one, share some of the responsibility with your family. 

The right time to reach out for support

Most caregivers make the mistake of pushing themselves too hard, to a point of utter exhaustion before they seek help. Do the opposite and share the load with your family early on. That way, you’ll not only be able to provide better help, but you’ll also avoid feeling done in.

Don’t water it down

It’s hard, awfully hard – so, in asking for help, don’t water down your requests by saying “It’ll be only temporary” or “If it’s not too much to ask”. Keep a list of things you need help with. Tell the family how it is and what all needs to be done. In case no one in the family is in a position to help, turn to a caregiving home for help. We’ve entrusted my mother in law to professionals for home care in San Jose who have massively increased her quality of life and instilled us with peace and tranquility. We still see her almost every day, but the fact that the responsibility is shared and that she’s in the right hands helps me and my husband sleep at night. 

Understand that loving and caring for someone with ALZ isn’t your personal battle. Just as the disorder itself consumes its victims’ lives, it also consumes the lives and well-being of the people giving care – unless you ask for help, that is.

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Rachael Wonderlin is an internationally-recognized dementia care expert and consultant. She has a Master’s in Gerontology and is the author of three published books with Johns Hopkins University Press. Rachael owns Dementia By Day, a dementia care consulting and education company.

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