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(BPT) - Taking care of an ill loved one is never easy, but for the 15 million Americans who provide care for someone with Alzheimer's disease (AD), the emotional and financial toll of caregiving can be overwhelming. Last year, caregivers provided more than 17 billion hours of unpaid care for AD patients, amounting to $216 billion of care, according to the Alzheimer's Association. They often experience emotional stress, depression, health problems of their own and a loss of wages, the Association reports.
"It's important for caregivers to take care of themselves as well, and to help those they care for find treatment options that can make it easier for both patient and caretaker to better manage Alzheimer's symptoms," says Dr. Richard S. Isaacson*, associate professor of neurology and director of the Alzheimer's Prevention & Treatment Program at Weill Cornell Medical College and a respected AD researcher who has several family members with the disease. "Just as there is no one solution for managing Alzheimer's symptoms, caregivers need to employ a suite of tactics in coping with their responsibilities - from stress-relieving habits and regular medical care for themselves, as well education about nutritional therapy and medication for patients."
Caregivers should keep in mind that helping themselves stay well is also helping the people for whom they're caring. If you're taking care of a loved one with AD, here are some ways you can help both yourself and the person in your care:
* Therapy to mitigate AD symptoms - Coping with common symptoms of AD such as disorientation, forgetfulness and emotional imbalances are among the most stressful aspects of caregiving. Helping patients mitigate those symptoms can improve the quality of life for both the patient and caregiver. Some medications show promise in helping reduce symptoms, and a new medical food, Axona(R) by Accera, Inc. can further help some mild to moderate patients mitigate symptoms, especially when used in tandem with drug therapies.
Axona helps by providing the brain of mild to moderate AD patients with an alternative to glucose - the "food" which fuels brain function. A brain affected by AD doesn't process glucose into energy as efficiently as a healthy brain, creating a condition known as diminished cerebral glucose metabolism (DCGM)) which most often occurs in the areas of the brain involved in memory and thoughts. The easy-to-mix, once-daily prescription medical food Axona helps provide brain cells with an alternative energy source, which may help ease the effects of DCGM and enhance memory and cognitive function in AD patients. Doctors and caregivers of AD patients who use Axona report patients appear more alert and engaged in daily activities and interactions with others.
* Seek support - Caregivers provide a tremendous amount of support for both patients and those who love them, but they can use support too. If you are a caregiver, join a support group where you can connect with people whose experiences and emotions parallel your own. You can find a support group through the Alzheimer Association's website, www.alz.org. Don't be afraid to ask for help from family and friends, too. Something as simple as picking up laundry or groceries, or sitting with a patient for an hour while you run errands doesn't take much time away from someone else's schedule, but it could give you a much-needed break.
* Keep an organized schedule - Routine can be very comforting for AD patients, and a schedule can help caregivers stay on track and feel less stressed by day-to-day demands. Online calendars or apps for your mobile device can help you keep a schedule and stay organized. Be sure to schedule in some time to give yourself a break, along with doctor's appointments and medication timings.
* Avoid isolation - Withdrawal from society is common among dementia patients and can take a toll on those caring for them. Caregivers can feel isolated, too. It's important to connect with others. Seek social interaction that will benefit you and your loved one with AD, whether it's attending a weekly prayer meeting or a regularly scheduled dinner with family members.
* Keep things in perspective - The Alzheimer's Association outlines five key things to remember: Don't take behaviors personally; stay calm and patient; realize pain can be a trigger for behavior; don't argue; and accept upsetting behaviors as part of the disease. Remember, your loved one can't control his or her disease, but you can control your reaction to disease-related behaviors.
To learn more about Axona, visit www.about-axona.com/. For more information on AD, including tips for caregivers, visit www.alz.org.
*Dr. Richard Isaacson is a paid scientific advisor/consultant for Accera, Inc.