Supporting caregivers and loved ones with Alzheimer’s during the holidays

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, there are signs you can look for in your loved ones that indicate the early stages of the disease
Published: Nov. 16, 2020 at 5:43 PM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - As the holidays approach, family members can look out for early signs of Alzheimer’s and dementia among their loved ones, and also take the time to give support to caregivers.

For National Family Caregiver Month, the Alzheimer’s Association is honoring caregivers. Kari Paterson, Executive Director of the Alzheimer’s Association, Wisconsin Chapter, said the pandemic can add stress for both the caregiver and the loved one with Alzheimer’s.

“We really worry about both individuals right now during the isolation and separation because of the impact of that stress and that worry on the care team,” said Paterson. “It’s really been a year like no other, it’s been really challenging for all parties.”

Paterson said they have been busy answering questions and offering resources to families who have been affected by the pandemic.

“We have been taking a huge amount of calls helping families understand what options are, how they can navigate through some of these systems, but ultimately it’s a very challenging time for families,” Paterson said.

Paterson said the Alzheimer’s Association has felt the impact of COVID-19.

“We have families who are isolated from their loved ones who might be living at a care community throughout the state, who maybe have only been doing phone visits for the last year, or maybe limited social interactions,” she said. “Conversely, we also have a lot of families who are needing to reach out for additional home services.”

One of those families is Stacy Austin-Li’s. Austin-Li said her mom is in a care facility that has scaled back visits for safety reasons due to coronavirus.

“Being at home, feeling a little bit powerless, it’s a hard, hard feeling,” Austin-Li said.

Austin-Li said she’s been grateful for the care and communication the people who work with her mother have provided throughout the pandemic.

Austin-Li’s mother first started showing signs of dementia about 12 years ago. She still recalls a visit home for Christmas one year when she noticed her mother was having difficulty with her memory.

“We’d get a package and say, ‘look, we got something in the mail from Uncle Jack.’ We’d look at it and say, ‘should we look at it now or wait for Christmas morning?’ Then three minutes later my mom would say, ‘what’s this on the table?’”

Paterson said some early signs include things like confusion about time, date, and place, and changes in speech.

“I think it’s important when you’re thinking about Alzheimer’s disease, it’s a difference for that person, from their normal experiences,” Paterson said. “Not everyone is great with names, not everyone is great with numbers, so our brains operate efficiently for each person in sort of a unique way. Our 10 warning signs from the Alzheimer’s Association, they’re really key to helping us understand early changes for that individual.”

Austin-Li has been a caregiver for her mom, with her father and sister.

“You have a role of a caregiver but you’re still a daughter and a mother,” she said. “And working through those relationships when you’re losing that person is really difficult.”

Austin-Li said she found support and comfort in resources like the Alzheimer’s Association and other groups, where she could learn more and connect with others.

“A great gift for the holiday season could the gift of time - maybe helping out, bring a meal over, give that caregiver a break,” said Paterson. Paterson noted that oftentimes family members who take care of loved ones with Alzheimer’s take few breaks from providing care. Paterson said especially during the pandemic, caregivers may need respite, even if it’s just a few moments alone.

Paterson said knowing 10 early signs can be helpful heading into the holiday season if families are seeing loved ones. If you are seeing loved ones, Paterson recommended keeping gatherings small and short, and noted that due to COVID-19, scaling down family gatherings is the recommendation in Wisconsin. She also said there are a number of virtual options this holiday season, such as sending greeting cards or videos.

For more information on how to safely navigate the holidays with loved ones with Alzheimer’s, visit the Alzheimer’s Association website.

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