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Visit with a support group for caregivers

Every week, five people who are caring for loved ones with Alzheimer's disease meet at their local senior center. Ann, a licensed clinical social worker, attends these meetings and sometimes offers ideas about ways to ease the stress of caregiving.

Angie: I feel so over-extended and over-worked. Sometimes I think that I'm "burnt out" from caring for Russell. It's been over a year now–non-stop."

Ann: You've been working hard, Angie, and you need a break. Do you have folks you can call on to give you a breather? A "respite companion" can be a family member or friend who will stay with Russell while you take a nap or get out of the house for a bit. Think of those people who ask, "How can I help?" Call them today! They can free up some of your time by running a few errands–like picking up some needed items at the grocery store.

Angie: That would help. And people have offered. Okay—I can do this.

Ann: You may also want to look into an adult day care center for Russell. He could spend a few hours there each day and you could have some time to take care of yourself--go for a walk or go to the movies.

Donna: That's a good idea, Ann. I could use a break, too. Lately I've been getting angry at Fred for being so forgetful and selfish. I know that he's frustrated, but I wish he wouldn't take his anger out on me. His angry outbursts really upset me.

Angie: Russell's fits make me upset, too. When that happens I go to my "cool-down spot" in my bedroom. It's a quiet, private corner where I can go –just to get some space. It's a safe place to sit and cry if I feel really frustrated.

Jane: I have a spot like that. I keep some pretty plants, my favorite photographs, and my rosary beads there. It's a quiet haven when I need a break. Sometimes caring for Ralph all the time makes me feel cut off from my friends and family. I know that it's important to take care of myself as best I can.

Ron: I know what you mean about feeling cut off from people. When Julia and I are with other people I always feel like I have to apologize for her behavior.

Ann: It may help to spend some time with other people who are going through what you are. You might want to seek out activities for Alzheimer's patients and their families. The local chapter of the Alzheimer's Association or your senior center may sponsor these events.

To find your local chapter of the Alzheimer's Association, click here:

Ron: I'll try that. I'm sure not getting much support from her family. It's especially hard when we're with her sister. She still doesn't believe that Julia has Alzheimer's and she pretends that nothing is wrong.

The truth is—Julia is getting worse and I don't think I can take care of her by myself anymore. I feel guilty about that—and I feel guilty about finding a long-term care home for her. Her sister's denial just makes me feel worse.

Ann: That's a very tough burden to bear, Ron. It's hard to feel that you're losing control because you have to give up your role of caring for Julia 24 hours a day. You're changing from the caregiver to the care manager.

Angie: I'm sorry that Julia's sister isn't being more supportive of this difficult change that you must go through. Sometimes people have a very hard time accepting the loss of the person they knew and loved. I know my family does. They just keeping waiting for the "old Russell" to return. I guess that pretending that nothing is wrong is a way to cope.

George: I hear you, Angie. And Ron—know you're doing the best you can. Mary is in the late stages of the disease, too, and I know that it's stressful. Just be sure to take time to take care of yourself. You won't be any help to Julia if you are ill. I'm living proof that stress can make you sick. I learned the hard way that doing everything to just care for Mary—and not myself—could lead to health problems.

Ann: That's right, George. Good advice!

Donna: It helps to just get away and talk like we're doing now. These support groups are good for us! I know I look forward to them.

Points to Remember:

• Caring for a person with Alzheimer's disease can take quite a toll. Take a break! Join a support group. • Don't be afraid to accept help. It is not a sign of weakness, but a sign that you can care for yourself as well as your loved one. • Find a "cool down" spot in your home where you can rest and regain your patience. • Seek out other people who are caring for people with Alzheimer's, too. They'll understand what you're going through!

Asking for help was hard at first. I wanted my children to believe their father was fine!

Read Marta's story