Nearly one-half of Americans over the age of 85 have Alzheimer's disease and related disorders. And 70 percent of those who care for these folks are family members or unpaid caregivers. The spouses, children and other loved ones who care for victims of Alzheimer's all experience a lot of stress; health problems and impairment of their own abilities will likely result unless they give special attention to their own well-being.
Fortunately, the Alzheimer's Association offers real help for these caregivers. For example, the staff can share tips of what has made the job easier for other families. The Alzheimer's Association is the number one source of information and support for caregivers across the country. The staff at the Alzheimer's Association realizes how critical family members are to the health and safety of Alzheimer's victims and is dedicated to the care and comfort of caregivers themselves.
In Alaska, there are four offices of the association - in Anchorage, Mat-Su, Fairbanks and Juneau. Located in Juneau, Glen Ray is the outreach coordinator for Southeast Alaska. Glen's office hours are Monday through Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. He invites persons with questions or concerns to call him at 586-6044.
Many of the folks who contact Glen for assistance are ``long distance caregivers,'' meaning they are concerned about or caring for a parent living outside of Juneau. From personal experience, Glen knows many of the difficulties of long distance caregiving. ``There's a comfort in talking with someone who's also experienced the frustrations and worries,'' he explains in his thoughtful and caring manner.
One of the most helpful services offered by the Alzheimer's Association is the support group for caregivers which is held the second and fourth Wednesday of each month. In the group, folks talk about the challenges they face with such activities as eating, dressing, toileting, wandering and basic communication. Participants learn from each other's ideas for managing difficult behaviors as well as how to handle their own frustrations. The support group offers a great exchange of practical ideas that work.
Glen explains, ``It can be so hard - your spouse or parent looks like the same person you've known for decades, but they act like a totally different person.'' He gives the example of a mother who no longer enjoys her favorite foods or a spouse who keeps asking the same question over and over again. One of the most difficult things is realizing that the victim cannot change, so the caregiver is the one who has to.
Glen's job involves supporting people in the day-to-day challenges of giving care. He enjoys one-to-one discussions with caregivers whether or not they are involved in the support group. At his office on Hospital Drive, Glen has a comprehensive library of brochures, books and videos to share with caregivers. He can explain how the loved one's brain has changed and what to expect at the various phases of the disease.
But Glen emphasizes that his work has more to do with ``concerns of the heart'' than with intellectual information. ``With all the feelings caregivers go through, they need to know they're not alone and they're not going crazy.'' He encourages persons doing the difficult work of caregiving to give him a call, if only to talk. ``There's hope for leading a more comfortable, less stressful life, even in the midst of multiple caregiving responsibilities.''
Marianne Mills oversees senior citizen nutrition and transportation programs for Juneau, Ketchikan and Sitka as a staff member of Southeast Senior Services, a program of Catholic Community Service (CCS). CCS assists all persons regardless of their faith.