Alzheimer’s in the Philippines…
Alzheimer’s & Dementia in Caregivers…
It was a perfectly ordinary day, and I was fine—until something happened. My head was buzzing, my entire system felt out of whack, and I needed to sit down. What had gone wrong? We’d had a typical morning: breakfast, I gave my husband his pills, and I took mine—-!!! Oh no, what have I done? I reenacted my routine at the kitchen counter, and sure enough, I realized I had mixed up our pills.
I dialed our HMO’s emergency number, explained what I’d done and how I felt, and was assured that everything was fine. I was told to eat some bread and wait for the effects to wear off. My husband, on the other hand, wouldn’t mind a little blood pressure medication and a touch of hormones, and he didn’t complain about anything.
The scenario described above, my friends, is what is known as Caregiver Dementia (CD), and it is why some caregivers believe Alzheimer’s is contagious when they, too, begin acting strangely, become forgetful, and misplace things. Of course, perfectly normal, everyday people do things like this all the time and laugh about it. They rarely believe they are developing Alzheimer’s disease; they believe they are aging rather than suffering from a disease. It’s when we live with someone who has Alzheimer’s every day, year after year, and are constantly bombarded with such bizarre behaviors that we obviously think we’re getting the same disease when we do something as simple as mixing up pills; I had done such things long before Alzheimer’s entered our lives—and I’m sure you have, too.
CD is not a medical condition described in a medical journal. The phrase first appeared in an Alzheimer’s caregiver chat room about ten years ago and has since spread throughout the Alzheimer’s community. Those of us who have been diagnosed with CD understand that it is caused by unrecognized stress, which is exacerbated by sleep deprivation and neglecting our own well-being. That’s probably how your life goes if you’re the sole at-home caregiver for a loved one with Alzheimer’s.
Unrelenting anxiety and activity on the overburdened caregiver will frequently result in CD and a lagging mental state. Giving some of the strange things you may say, do, and think a non-technical name, “CD,” will alleviate your concerns and assure you that you are not insane and that you will eventually return to normalcy.
I can suggest things to say and do to possibly reduce your stress, but I know from personal experience that such well-meaning advice is not always possible to follow. Still, it is worth noting that if you can find assistance for respite, take it. Don’t keep thinking that you’re the only one who can properly care for your loved one. You can tell people that you are suffering from CD, that you are exhausted, angry, fearful, and on the verge of collapsing, and that if you don’t get help—some time off—you will end up in the hospital, which is a very real possibility that all too often occurs. This is a TRUE medical condition.
As an Alzheimer’s caregiver, if you are frequently tired, need to pause more frequently to get your thoughts back on track, or recall a fact or word, this is not necessarily the start of Alzheimer’s; instead, it is most likely CD. You have a valid reason for acting in this manner. Your concentration may suffer, and you may become easily distracted and feel disoriented. Find a quiet ‘corner’ to relax in without interruption—let any chores go—even a half hour will do wonders. You will need more sleep, should try to eat better, consider a nutritional supplement, vitamins, and speak with your doctor, who should understand the stresses of Alzheimer’s caregiving and may prescribe a mild tranquilizer. If you don’t address these stresses and take care of yourself (even if it’s just a little), you’ll likely deteriorate, forgetting appointments and putting things in the wrong place. You will begin to believe that your actions are similar to those of your loved one and that you are, in fact, suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. You can become moody, grumpy (for good reason), believe you’re losing your mind, and become physically ill without even realizing it. You require a break for both yourself and your loved one. Have you heard the saying, “If you get sick, who will care for your loved one?” So, who will?
CD can be amusing at first, but as time passes, it can become serious. Recognize that you are only human and that you cannot do it all by yourself. Consider the professional caregiver who works all day and then comes home for dinner, family, distraction, and a good night’s sleep. We ordinary untrained people cannot do it 24/7 without some respite, some relief from it all without serious consequences—again, speaking from personal experience. I was aging with my own medical issues and should have sought more help, placed my dear husband sooner, even though it broke my heart when I finally had to do it, and taken better care of myself. I understand that not all caregivers have other options, but far too often, what prevents caregivers from seeking additional assistance is in their own heads. Consider it, and then reconsider; you don’t have to do it all alone. Ask for assistance and accept it when it is offered. Caregiving for someone with Alzheimer’s disease can quickly become overwhelming. Remember that your life is just as important as your loved one’s, and you have the right to enjoy things, let things go, and put yourself first now and then—perfectly it’s fine.