For caregivers, dealing with Alzheimer’s can be a difficult task

FRONT ROYAL — Charity Michael, a care manager at the Shenandoah Area Agency on Aging, was showing off one of her cabinets, full of pamphlets from the National Institute on Aging, which is part of the National Institutes of Health.

“This is my resource cabinet — one of them — and everything in here has to do with helping caregivers and loved ones,” Michael said.

November is National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month, and Michael was talking about one of the groups of people most impacted by Alzheimer’s: family members of people with the disease.

As the care manager at the Shenandoah Area Agency on Aging, Michael often interacts with the caregivers. The organization has a respite center in Edinburg, where families can drop off their loved ones between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays.

She also holds workshops where she invites in people who have Alzheimer’s and their caregivers to talk about dealing with the disease.

“Caregiving is hard,” Michael said. “It’s one of the hardest things that individuals have to go through in this process. And it’s a loss. They grieve. They grieve the fact that their loved one is no longer who they’ve always been.”

Josette Miller, a home health consultant and lead caregiver at Home Instead Senior Care in Winchester, said that caregiving can leave an emotional toll on the family members of people with Alzheimer’s. She cited an example from one of her clients.

“I remember going to the doctor’s appointment with her daughter and the client, and I remember the doctor telling her she had dementia,” Miller said. “And [the client] looked the doctor right in the face, and she said, ‘Well, I forget who my daughter is.’ And that was really hard for the daughter to hear.”

Caregiving is also time-consuming. Jillian Newlin, the Alzheimer’s and Dementia Educator at Home Instead Senior Care, said that people who have Alzheimer’s often need 24-hour care.

That’s because, as people get into later stages of the disease, Alzheimer’s causes them to forget about crucial things, like taking their medicine, and can cause them to wander off, putting themselves in danger.

“At some point, (people with Alzheimer’s) cannot be left alone and they must need around-the-clock care,” Newlin said.

That can be exhausting for caregivers, and Michael said that caregivers can often get burned out.

“Their health declines, they run out of energy, they become short with their loved one,” Michael said.

But Michael, Newlin and Miller all said that there is help for caregivers if they know where to look. First of all, there are respite centers, like the one at the Shenandoah Area Agency on Aging, where caregivers can drop off their loved ones; or caregiving groups, like Home Instead Senior Care, where people with Alzheimer’s can receive in-home care.

But Michael and Newlin also pointed to support groups, where a group of caregivers can meet and talk about dealing with loved ones who have dementia.

Neither the Shenandoah Area Agency on Aging nor Home Instead Senior Care runs a support group, but the groups can be found at nursing homes in the area.

“We have so many around town that I use as a referencing point,” Newlin said.

Those groups, Michael said, can really help caregivers emotionally tackle the issue of dealing with family members who have dementia.

“There are individuals sometimes who go to those support groups whose loved one has died–has passed–but they continue to be an available person for someone who is going through the process,” Michael said. “And that’s pretty amazing, too, that there are individuals out there who are willing to still help like that.”