THE BLOG
11/12/2012 04:04 pm ET Updated Jan 12, 2013

Being a Successful Caregiver: Getting the Support You Need

Receiving the news that a loved has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease or a related form of dementia is often life-changing. As our population ages, more and more of us are faced with the difficult reality that our loved ones are experiencing increased memory impairment. Whether this is in the form of mild forgetfulness, often referred to as Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), Alzheimer's, or a related dementia, coping with any level of cognitive change in your loved one can be a challenge for caregivers and family members.

When a loved one is diagnosed with a form of dementia, many caregivers experience sadness and denial or might not want to share the news with others, which can lead to them feeling overwhelmed and isolated. Decisions about next steps, care, treatment approaches and the sheer knowledge that someone you love may be changing can put an enormous amount of pressure on one's shoulders. That is why it is so very important to be your own advocate and investigate the many ways you can receive support.

Reach out to community resources. Your local Area Agency on Aging can provide resources for you to understand your options. Alzheimer's Association chapters will also help walk you through what to expect with a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease or dementia and provide knowledge and tools for all family members to utilize. The more you understand what is happening to your loved one, the more you can anticipate and plan for your future.

Join a support group. Transitioning from a spouse to a caregiver or a child to the role of decision maker can be very difficult. Learning from others how to make any transition and finding a safe place to express your fears and frustrations can provide a world of comfort and strength. You can reach out to your local senior care community -- Sunrise Senior Living offers support groups for caregivers even if their loved one does not live in a Sunrise community.

Having an encouraging team around you, such as support group members who have been through the process, can significantly ease stress and provide you with options and solutions you may not have considered or been aware of. For instance, as our nation remembers those who served in our armed forces on Veterans Day, many may not know that military benefits are available to individuals and families that can help defray the cost of senior care. Taking that first step to make these connections can be daunting, but having a team around you may make all the difference.

Access online resources. When memory loss occurs, it is often a situation that affects more than the hands on, day-to-day caregiver -- it can affect the entire family. Individuals who are not living with their loved ones often are less aware of changes, preferences and the progress of the disease. Caregivers can find some very helpful online resources through the Alzheimer's and Dementia Caregiver Center and the Alzheimer's Reading Room. On my blog, Ask Rita, I try to answer questions that family members may have about memory loss and memory changes. Reaching out to a resource such as this can help you feel more in tune with your loved one's needs.

Take a break. It important to remember that, as a caregiver, your mental and physical health is important, too. Strive to find some time to do something that you enjoy doing each and every day. Read a book, go for a walk, or watch one of your favorite comedy movies -- maintaining your sense of humor will benefit both you and your loved one with memory loss.

For some, it is hard to be away from your loved one. Research your options -- perhaps other family members can spend time with your loved one. Many senior living communities offer short-term stays for those with memory loss while a family caregiver takes a short break due to travel, vacation or even if you just need a break from your every day.

No two individuals with memory loss or dementia are alike, and so no two caregiver experiences exactly replicate each other. Take the time during this difficult period and make the needed connections with others experiencing these feelings.

For more by Rita Altman, R.N., click here.

For more on caregiving, click here.