For every person with Alzheimer's there are about three people who take care of them. That's more than 15 million caregivers in America. One Alzheimer's expert wanted people to see the disease through the eyes of the caregiver so she gave them cameras and had them snap away at a life that isn't always picture perfect. It is one of the most stressful and emotional jobs, but she says some of the biggest mistakes caregivers make can be avoided.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, a heart-warming, yet heart-breaking novel could be written from this family's photos.
Margaret Washington's younger sister holds a picture of herself before Alzheimer's set in, showing the toll it can take in just a few short years.
Margaret said, "With the other two sisters who spend very little time with her, and other family members, they're always shocked, and so I thought this would be a good way to capture some of the images of her as she progressed."
Cognitive neuroscientist in the Department of Neurology at Emory University, Whitney Wharton, studies Alzheimer's from the patient's side and the people who care for them. Wharton says one of the biggest mistakes caregivers make is not caring for themselves.
She says, "Caregivers, they will be stressed, they won't eat properly, they don't have time to exercise and that's unfortunate because, during middle age, particularly for women, is the time when we really need to take care of our bodies."
Another common mistake: always correcting the patient's stories. Wharton says reminding them that they're wrong only further confuses and upsets them.
"You can let them think that they went out to lunch yesterday when they didn't. You don't have to say no, no, no, that didn't happen. You can just say, yeah, that's great, I'm glad you enjoyed yourself," Wharton said.
And, finally, not planning is another big mistake. Before Alzheimer's takes over completely involve the patient in things like making a will, deciding on power of attorney, choosing an assisted living facility if it comes to that and, most important of all, working out a financial plan. Because these photos through the eyes of the caregiver show there are some things you can't control, so control the things you can.
Wharton says another mistake caregivers make is trying to do it all alone. If you don't have family that can help out, find a support group and experts who have experience in caring for people with Alzheimer's. They can offer advice, tips and support that can take some stress off of you and make things easier for the person you're caring for.
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