When you are a new family caregiver, it’s hard to know where to start. Perhaps you’ve only recently realized that your loved one needs help, and is no longer as independent as he or she once was. Or perhaps a sudden change has taken place in your loved one’s health. The earlier you find support, the better. Now is the time to be informed of what action, services or information you are in need of to help care for your loved one.
Learn the diagnosis. If your loved one is showing change in personality or increased forgetfulness, take him/her to a neurologist or diagnostic clinic. An evaluation by one of these professionals can rule out any reversible causes of dementia symptoms such as medication reactions, infections, nutritional deficiencies, or depression. There are many benefits to an early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or other cognitive impairment disorders.
Early treatment is most effective in earlier stages of diseases such as Alzheimer’s and can create more independence for your loved one. Knowing your loved one’s diagnosis can help you plan ahead realistically. Learn as much as you can about your loved one’s condition. Many books, videos, and classes or support groups are available to inform you about what you can expect as your loved one’s disease progresses and to provide support you need during and throughout to cope adequately.
Talk with your loved one. An awareness of your loved one’s financial and health care status can relieve anxiety and help plan for the future. If your loved one is able to complete a Durable Power of Attorney for finances and health care, an elder law attorney can help. If your loved one is unable to execute this process, you will need further legal advice to learn about your options.
Include family and close friends. Have a family and friend meeting about your loved one and include him/her. List the tasks that are needed to be completed so they can be divided up. Allow everyone to discuss their concerns, as well as how much and what kind of help each person can offer. As a primary caregiver, it is best to focus on accepting what help your family and close friends are offering. You will need plenty of support for the best caregiving.
Utilize community resources. If you don’t have a close network of family or friends available, community resources can help and are available. A good resource is your community’s local Area Agency on Aging. Look to the Agency for resource information about help such as adult day care or Meals on Wheels.
Find support for yourself. You may often feel isolated as you take on more responsibility. A caregiver support group is a good place to meet other caregivers and receive the support essential to care for your loved one as you care and support yourself.