Caregivers for Memory Loss Patients Face Significant Stress

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MONROE — Caregivers for patients with memory loss may face significant stress and could benefit from support to reduce its negative effects, according to counselors at the Memory Center at Saint Peter’s University Hospital.

“Caregivers sometimes forget that they need to take care of themselves,” said Beth Chassin, M.S.W., L.C.S.W., of the Memory Center at Saint Peter’s University Hospital. “Otherwise the stress that they experience takes a real toll on their own health.”

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The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that 67 percent of caregiving spouses die before their husband or wife. Studies also show that 30 to 40 percent of dementia caregivers suffer from depression and emotional stress.

“With memory loss, a person’s social circle often disappears,” said Chassin. “It’s common that friends drop the couple, as it’s no longer comfortable to socialize. As a result, the caregiver often becomes isolated and lonely. In addition, as loved ones begin to lose themselves piece by piece, caregivers often go through the same stages of grief as with death. This can lead to depression and hopelessness, and ultimately affect the quality of care.”

In addition, an aging spouse often cannot focus on his or her own needs, including health care concerns, because he or she is overwhelmed by the job as caregiver.

Signs of Stress

Caregivers can watch for the following signs that they may be exhibiting stress:

  • Misplacing objects such as keys
  • Forgetting where they parked the car
  • Trouble concentrating or making decisions
  • Finding it difficult to begin simple things
  • Feeling on edge, frustrated or annoyed
  • Lacking energy
  • Feeling overwhelmed

The Alzheimer’s Association offers a caregiver stress check test to determine whether you might need to seek help:

  1. Do you feel like you have to do it all yourself and that you should be doing more?
  2. Do you withdraw from family, friends and activities you used to enjoy?
  3. Do you worry that the person you care for is safe?
  4. Do you feel anxious about money and health care decisions?
  5. Do you deny the impact of the disease and its effects on your family?
  6. Do you feel grief or sadness that your relationship with the person isn’t what it used to be?
  7. Do you get frustrated and angry when the person with dementia continually repeats things and doesn’t seem to listen?
  8. Do you have health problems that are taking a toll on you mentally and physically?

If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, you should seek help.

The Memory Center at Saint Peter’s University Hospital offers resources for patients as well as for caregivers to reduce the stress associated with the disease.

During the initial visit, patients are evaluated for memory loss and depression. They are assessed by a geriatrician who reviews their medical history and medication records and conducts a physical exam. Patients and their families meet with a social worker to discuss the situation and develop a plan that helps to lighten the load on the primary caregiver.

Caregiver support groups also meet regularly at two locations: the Adult Day Center, 200 Overlook Drive, Monroe Twp., N.J., contact Stephanie Fitzsimmons-Sexton, R.N., N.P., 609- 655-2220; and the Comprehensive Care Group at Monroe, 300 Overlook Drive, Monroe Twp., N.J., contacts Beth Chassin, M.S.W., L.C.S.W., and Rachel Kallish, C.S.W, 609-409-1363.

In addition, the Saint Peter’s Adult Day Center provides a respite for caregivers and socialization for the patient. The Adult Day Center is a more affordable option than residential care.

About Memory Loss

We lose our memory for various reasons — none of them related to the natural aging process, according to Jose C. Vigario, D.O., director of The Memory Center. The reasons are all medical. They include depression, infections, seizures, mini-strokes, brain tumors, dementia and even problems related to the heart. In some cases, that loss is reversible. For example, with depression, there is memory loss because of a lack of focus and attention. When depression is treated, memory returns. In other cases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, the loss is not reversible. But often, if caught early on, its progression can be slowed.

Caregivers can watch for signs of serious memory loss, which include:

  • Asking the same questions over and over again
  • Becoming lost in places the person knows well
  • Being unable to follow directions
  • Becoming confused about time, people and places
  • Changing behavior, such as eating poorly, practicing unsafe behaviors or not bathing
  • Difficulty performing familiar tasks such as cooking, driving or paying bills on time

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