In most cases, the primary caregiver of someone with Alzheimer's disease will be a loved one, a spouse, adult child, or close companion. Even in the early stages of the disease, caregiving is an extremely demanding, 24-hour-a-day task. Caregivers need to be flexible and understanding in dealing with changes in their loved one's behavior and personality. They must also be able to communicate with family, friends and professionals about his or her condition.
Spouses who are caregivers are likely to be strongly affected by a diagnosis of Alzheimer's, as they process the profound changes their future holds:
- Spouses often have their own health problems.
- Husbands and wives often must reverse roles and take on unfamiliar tasks.
- Depending on a couple's relationship, Alzheimer's can bring them closer together or it can alienate them.
- Spouses must accept that the person they have known and loved may change dramatically in personality and behavior, and there will almost without a doubt come a time when their loved one does not recognize them.
Adult children who are caregivers also need to adjust to the role reversal in caring for their parent. They may feel overwhelmed by the other responsibilities in their lives such as working within or outside the home and caring for their children.
As distressing as an Alzheimer's diagnosis can be, this is the time to begin to accept the future, build a support network, gather information to help alleviate fears and plan for the road ahead. Family members who do not live nearby should support the main caregiver and try to help with tasks that they can do where they are.