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Who's Caring for the Caregiver?

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Caregiving can be extremely stressful, says Steven H. Zarit, PhD, professor of human development and the assistant director of the gerontology center at Pennsylvania State University in University Park. As many as 70% of caregivers report some symptom of depression.

Most care comes from family members, including dressing, bathing, and watching so the loved one doesn't wander off, all the while balancing work and family responsibilities, he says.

"Learn how to manage everyday problem behaviors associated with Alzheimer's, such as formulating new responses when the patient keeps repeating questions," he suggests.

He also suggests mobilizing family support. New research shows that family meetings can reduce caregiver burden and family distress.

Another suggestion: "Consider adult care in or out of the home," he says.

Zarit has found that when a person with Alzheimer's disease receives outside care two days a week there's significantly lower care-related stress or depression for caregivers, a benefit that was maintained for longer than one year.

Still, just three of 10 caregivers receive outside help, and it may be because the cost can be prohibitive.

In the new survey, 88% of doctors said they provided information on where to find help and services, but just 31% of caregivers say they got such information.

"The idea that there's nothing caregivers can do to relieve their own stress is wrong," he says.

According to the Alzheimer's Association, there are seven steps you can take to ensure you are a healthy caregiver:

  1. See your doctor regularly.
  2. Get screened for stress and depression.
  3. Get plenty of rest.
  4. Eat well balanced meals.
  5. Exercise regularly.
  6. Accept help from others.
  7. Call the Alzheimer's Association at 1-800-272-3900.

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