Sarah’s Journey as an Alzheimer’s Caregiver
Finding out that a loved one is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease is difficult for everyone. Because symptoms come on slowly, the diagnosis could take years. Sometimes, it is a family member who first notices a change. Memory loss. Trouble communicating. Difficulty performing familiar tasks. These are just a few of the symptoms that may surface.
Some family members who transition to the caregiver role after diagnosis may find themselves in new, unfamiliar territory. They may feel a roller coaster of emotions and thoughts. “How will I know what to do?” “How do I help my loved one through this?” “What do I do next?” These questions and feelings are completely normal.
Sarah has been married to her husband, Robert, for 40 years. After noticing some memory loss and other symptoms, she urged her husband to see their primary care doctor. It took two years and several doctors to get the right diagnosis: Robert has Alzheimer’s disease. Every day is different now. Together, they are dealing with the physical, emotional, and mental challenges of the disease. Below you can learn more about how Alzheimer’s is impacting Sarah.
Stages of Alzheimer’s
Even though Robert is in the early stage of Alzheimer’s, Sarah sees that he is having trouble with simple tasks, like paying bills. She lends a hand whenever she can, but she is not sure if she is doing enough. She struggles with figuring out how to help while letting Robert maintain his independence. His memory loss is increasing and communicating is becoming a challenge. She is also concerned because his symptoms seem to get worse at night.
Explore the three main stages of Alzheimer’s – click on each stage below to learn more.
At the early stage, people with Alzheimer’s may still be independent. Work, social get-togethers, driving – they will likely be able to continue with many everyday activities. At times, the caregiver may notice that they have memory lapses, such as forgetting a person’s name or misplacing keys and other objects. This is a good time to put plans in place for legal, financial, and long-term care, because the person with Alzheimer’s can be actively involved in decision making.
This middle stage is usually the longest, and can last for many years. As time goes on, people with Alzheimer’s will likely need more help and support from caregivers. In this stage, they may jumble words and have trouble remembering personal information, like their address or phone number. Completing multi-step tasks, like planning dinner or getting dressed, is a bigger challenge. Sundowning is more noticeable – symptoms may appear worse at night compared to the rest of the day. As the risk of wandering may increase, now is the time to look around the home and take appropriate safety precautions.
Other symptoms may include:
The late stage may last from several weeks to several years. Carrying on a conversation, sitting, and walking can become even more challenging for those with Alzheimer’s. Caregivers will need to step in to help with daily basic care, like bathing. As the disease progresses, around-the-clock care is typically needed.
Other symptoms may include:
Alzheimer’s and Daily Life
Sarah sees just how much Alzheimer's impacts Robert’s day-to-day activities. He is not able to do all the things he used to. She feels incredibly sad to see him this way. Sarah is watching his diet to make sure he gets proper nutrition. Soon she needs to have “the talk” about no more driving – and this is making her anxious.
After talking to the doctor, Sarah is looking into alternative, non-drug therapy options to help Robert. She is hopeful that these therapies may lessen some of the symptoms and frustrations that affect his quality of life.
Click on the icons to discover alternative therapy options.
Caring for Someone with Alzheimer’s
As Robert’s symptoms change, Sarah’s role as caregiver changes as well. Robert is now relying on Sarah more than ever for help. Sarah has a lot to balance right now. Because she is so busy caring for Robert, she often forgets to take care of herself. She is starting to experience caregiver burnout. But she is slowly learning to ask for help when she needs it – and that she does not have to go it alone.
Coping as a Caregiver
It is especially heartbreaking for Sarah to watch Robert slowly change as the disease progresses.
For Sarah, there are challenging days...and some better days. Days when she feels just okay...and others when she is overcome by the enormity of it all. Her sweetheart is no longer the same person she once knew. And she is grieving this loss.
She is also feeling trepidation about the future. What will it look like for her? Will he remember her? Will he even recognize her face? To help get through, Sarah reaches out to family, friends, and online communities for support. She finds that venting her concerns and sharing some of her favorite memories of Robert comfort her.