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New Year's Resolutions for Alzheimer's Caregivers

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New Year's is a great opportunity for caregivers to recognize the challenges they may face in 2012 and recommit themselves to becoming a better caregiver every day. Choosing just one of the activities below that you may not be doing currently can have a major impact on your loved one and yourself.

Ask for help and take a break
Make it a priority this year to give yourself a respite. Everyone needs time off to recharge, and chances are that your friends and family are happy to help. This time away from caregiving responsibilities will help you relieve stress and allow you to provide even better care to your loved one in the future.

Be especially mindful of not refusing help, and accept assistance from friends, family members or the services of professionals. There is no reason to feel guilty or believe no one else can provide the care as well as you can. For friends and family who may not feel comfortable caring for a loved one with memory loss, help educate them on some of the most successful strategies. Check out more tips to make respites successful for everyone.

Join a support group
Support groups are invaluable, as they provide an opportunity to share advice, vent frustrations and learn from others who have the same concerns, stresses and challenges. These meetings provide a confidential outlet for sharing feelings and receiving comfort. The Alzheimer's Association has a comprehensive list of local support groups, or you may contact a senior living community near you.

Support groups can also provide an outlet for activism. Stand up for the needs of those with Alzheimer's disease and become an Alzheimer's Association advocate. Support the HOPE for Alzheimer's Act, which aims to improve the diagnostic process and provide more information and support to caregivers.

Educate yourself
The more you know, the better-prepared you are to provide care for your loved one. Take the time to understand how memory loss impacts an individual and those around them so you can anticipate changes in your loved one and proactively plan for the next step, while helping others cope with the effects of the disease.

With some basic knowledge, you can begin to understand what those with Alzheimer's are feeling and what you can do to ease their anxieties and connect with them.

People who have Alzheimer's disease often repeat statements or show frustration and anxiety. Understand that this is their way of expressing an unmet basic human need. Learn how to identify their unmet needs and validate their feelings by truly responding appropriately. This validation technique helps you truly connect with your loved one, helps promote their self-esteem and makes them feel valued.

Also, learn how to keep aging brains active. A flood of new research has offered profound insights into how to keep aging brains active and how to delay or prevent the onset of memory loss and dementia. As caregivers, we have a special obligation to translate these new understandings into action.

Read The Shriver Report: A Woman's Nation Takes on Alzheimer's. The remarkable book on Alzheimer's disease and its disproportionate impact on women presents new academic research and is a must-read for anyone caring for someone with Alzheimer's disease.

Center yourself
To be a great caregiver, it's important that you are able to fully concentrate on the needs of the person with memory loss. This means that prior to interacting with your loved one, start with a calm, clear head and an open mind.

A validation technique called "centering" helps you to remain calm and patient during frustrating moments. Try the following centering technique:
  • Focus on a spot about two inches below your waist.
  • Inhale deeply through your nose, filling your body with air.
  • Exhale through your mouth.
  • Stop all of your inner dialogue and devote all of your attention to your breathing.
  • Repeat this procedure slowly, eight times.

Centering allows you to move past the difficult moments every caregiver experiences and helps you feel more confident, capable, and fully present as you engage with your loved one.

Journal
Purchase a journal and write down your thoughts and feelings about being a caregiver. Journaling is a healthy way for a person to confront their own emotions and begin to process them. Studies have shown that regular writing can bolster the immune system, ease stress and help you recover from any traumatic events more successfully.

As we enter 2012, I'd also like to take the opportunity to ask The Huffington Post readers what they want to know more about when it comes to Alzheimer's disease and care for those with memory loss. What are you struggling with most and what questions do you frequently ask yourself or others? Through this blog, I'd like to provide as much guidance as I can and help as many caregivers as possible.

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