More than 16 million people serve as unpaid caregivers for loved ones living with Alzheimer’s disease, which is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S.. Caregivers face the difficult task of managing their loved one's health and daily lives as they increasingly lose touch with their memory and the world around them as a result of this irreversible brain disorder.
Today on Talk of Iowa, caregivers and experts weigh in on extreme challenges and unique joys of taking care of someone with Alzheimer’s.
Ken Gregerson has spent the last decade caring for his wife of 66 years, who is currently living with late-stage Alzheimer's disease in a care facility. He describes his experiences through the stages of her disease progression and shares the lessons he's learned. Overall, he encourages other caregivers to seek out support groups and lean on peers who understand the difficulty of caregiving.
In spite of dealing with the cruelty of the Alzheimer's, Gregerson has discovered music as a powerful tool to connect with his wife and others. In addition to singing daily to his wife, Evie, he founded a music group for people with dementia and their caregivers called "Joy in the Morning."
"One reason we started 'Joy in the Morning' is so that the caregiver can bring their loved one to something where they can just have a good time for a couple of hours," Gregerson says. "Taking care of a loved one is a 24/7 job and you kind of sleep with one eye open. So anytime you can give yourself a break or find joy in going someplace together, you need to do that."
Dr. Yogesh Shah, a geriatrician at Broadlawns Geriatric and Memory Center in Des Moines, agrees that it is important for caregivers to focus on self-care amid the turmoil of caring for someone with Alzheimer's. He recommends that caregivers prioritize time for self care whenever possible and advises caregivers to educate themselves as they work to reach a place of acceptance about the irreversible, non-negotiable aspects of the disease.
Edith Crawford and Becky Orr Montgomery also share the stories of their mothers who were diagnosed with Alzheimer's. They add to the conversation about the complexities of caring for a family member with the disease.
The Alzheimer's Association provides resources to individuals living with Alzheimer's, the the family and friends who support them. Free and confidential support is availablt 24/7 through the Alzheimer's Association hotline at: 800-272-3900.
- Dr. Yogesh Shah -- physician at Broadlawns Geriatric and Memory Center in Des Moines
- Ken Gregerson -- caregiver, community educator and support group facilitator
- Edith Crawford -- former caregiver, community educator and member of the Alzheimer's Association Iowa Chapter Board of Directors
- Becky Orr Montgomery -- former caregiver, support group facilitator and community educator