Wednesday, November 10, 2010

National Caregivers Month: Alzheimer's Disease

By Felicia Wong, MD

Alzheimer’s Disease is a progressive, irreversible brain disease. The cause is poorly understood, and there is no known cure. Symptoms of Alzheimer’s include memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, personality changes, disorientation and loss of language skills. It is the most common form of irreversible dementia.

Watching someone you love slowly lose their memory, thinking and reasoning skills can be heartbreaking. Caring for a person with Alzheimer’s Disease is a difficult task and can become overwhelming at times. As Alzheimer’s patients gradually lose their memory and their skills , each day brings new challenges to the caregiver. This is why I wanted to recognize caregivers for Alzheimer's patients in November, which is National Family Caregivers Month and Alzheimer's Disease Awareness Month.

Over time, communication diminishes, rewards decrease, and without strong support from family, friends and the community, caregivers of Alzheimer's patients face challenges to their very own well-being. Maintaining emotional and physical fitness while providing care for a loved one with Alzheimer’s Disease is crucial. Preparing and protecting yourself, understanding your loved one’s experience, and accepting help from others can reduce the stress associated with care-giving, and maximize the joys of being there for a loved one.

Here is a link to tips to help caregivers of loved ones with Alzheimer’s cope.

Additional support for Alzheimer’s and Dementia Caregivers, including warning signs of caregiver burnout, and tips on how to plan your own self care can be found on Helpguide.

Find additional information on Alzheimer's and other issues affecting mental health in seniors on the American Psychiatric Association's Healthy Minds website.

Monday, November 8, 2010

National Family Caregivers Month: Self-Care for Caregivers

By Felicia Wong, MD

I love helping others. That is why I became a doctor, and why I love my job as a psychiatrist. But when I was a pre-medical student in college, my mom shared the following words of wisdom with me:  “In order to take care of others, you need to take care of yourself first.”

It took me a moment to understand the importance of the point she was making. I had taken a break from my community service projects due to a sports injury, and was eager to return to them. However, at that time, I was not fully recovered and was often in pain, and would tire easily. My mom encouraged me to take some more time off in order to focus on my own recovery and healing. Initially, I felt guilty taking the time out for myself. But in the end, I realized mom was right. Once I became strong and well again, I had so much more to offer to others.
Caregivers tend to be selfless, and expect a lot of themselves without recognizing their own need for self-care. Studies have found that caregivers have higher levels of depression and stress than non-caregivers. Sometimes caregivers are so committed to helping others that they forget to take care of themselves. They fail to recognize that if they drive themselves to exhaustion or sickness, they may not be able to help at all.

Warning signs of caregiver burnout from the non-profit include:
  • You have much less energy than you used to
  • It seems like you catch every cold or flu that’s going around
  • You’re constantly exhausted, even after sleeping or taking a break
  • You neglect your own needs, either because you’re too busy or you don’t care anymore
  • Your life revolves around caregiving, but it gives you little satisfaction
  • You have trouble relaxing, even when help is available
  • You’re increasingly impatient and irritable with the person you’re caring for
  • You feel overwhelmed, helpless, and hopeless
Key strategies to prevent burnout include getting the help you need, seeking emotional support, and taking time out to care for yourself.
  • Learn and use stress-reduction techniques.
  • Attend to your own healthcare needs.
  • Get proper rest and nutrition.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Take time off without feeling guilty.
  • Participate in pleasant, nurturing activities.
  • Seek and accept the support of others.
  • Seek supportive counseling when you need it, or talk to a trusted counselor or friend.
  • Identify and acknowledge your feelings.
  • Change the negative ways you view situations.
  • Set goals.
For additional strategies for self-care for caregivers, visit the Family Caregiver Alliance, and watch for my next post on caring for someone with Alzheimer's. 

Friday, November 5, 2010

National Family Caregivers Month

By Gariane Gunter, M.D.

November is National Family Caregivers Month and what a worthy group to stop and recognize. Those who are caregivers for family members or friends with mental illnesses need support and encouragement just as those caring for loved ones with other illnesses. There are many groups and resources available across the nation that are available to help. I would like to tell you about one of them.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness is a grassroots organization that was started in 1979. I have had the wonderful opportunity to work with them in my area and have seen firsthand the difference they make in the lives of those suffering from mental illnesses as well as their families. One special program they offer for family members is called Family-to-Family. The NAMI Family-to-Family Education Program is a free 12-week course for family caregivers of individuals with severe brain disorders (mental illnesses). NAMI recognizes that family members of people with serious mental illnesses need information and support to cope with the considerable stresses they experience.

The Family to Family Education Program is a structured, peer-led, 12-week information and support self-help class for such individuals. Research shows reduced subjective burden and increased empowerment among graduates. Family-to-Family classes are offered in hundreds of communities across the country. You can find more information on this program as well as many other resources available in your area by visiting NAMI online at There you can find a support group, connect online in NAMI's discussion groups, contact your state or local NAMI and more. Caregivers please take the time to take care of you this month.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Concussion: Getting Back in the Game?

American Psychiatric Association Healthy Minds blogger and sports psychiatriy expert Claudia Reardon, M.D., discusses concussions in young athletes in this video blog: