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Family Caregivers May Be at Risk for Cognitive Decline

It's fairly obvious that long term caregiving for a loved one diagnosed with Alzheimer's or dementia can take its toll on the caregiver's emotional and physical health. New studies suggest that toll may even include higher risk for cognitive decline or developing dementia over non-caregivers.

A study published in the Journal of American Geriatrics Society identified this link as well as the risk factors for cognitive decline including social isolation, depression, stress, poor lifestyle choices such as unhealthy diet and lack of physical activity.

Studies have shown, for example, that caregivers of Alzheimer's disease patients had lower scores on tests that measure attention, visual processing speeds, and memory than adults of the same age who were not caregivers. Additional stressors like disturbed sleep and fewer positive experiences exacerbated the processing problems. Another study followed more than 1,200 older married couples in rural Utah for 12 years and found that spouses of husbands or wives that developed dementia had a 600% greater risk of developing dementia themselves. More studies are needed to further explore the nature of the relationship between caregiving and cognitive decline.

The good news is that although primary family caregivers are more susceptible to the risk factors...they potentially have the ability to modify behaviors and environments before they become compromised. Family physicians should pay close attention to older patients who are caring for spouses impacted by the disease. Efforts need to be made to decrease stress levels in those patients, and help them focus on the positive aspects of caregiving over the negative.

Consider the following tips:

1)Schedule mini-workouts throughout the day. Ten minute sessions sprinkled over the course of the day are easier to block out than an hour away. Exercise boosts endorphins which promote a positive attitude.

2) Take time to play. In the early stages of Alzheimer's disease, the caregiver and patient can enjoy some activities that gave them joy in the past. Taking walks, gardening, doing puzzles, playing with a pet are some ideas for simple activities that can bring happiness to both parties.

3) Appreciate the humorous side of things. Laughter is an antidote to stress, anxiety and boredom. Caregivers should give themselves permission to laugh about some of the absurd situations they find themselves in when caregiving for a dementia or Alzheimer's patient. Watching comedy shows or funny movies can bring some sunshine into an otherwise grey day. Laughter will work to soothe both caregiver and patient.

4) Count the blessings. A daily gratitude list can chase away the blues and shift focus on a loved one’s capabilities.

5) Accept the situation. Its normal to want to avoid facing what is happening to a loved one with Alzheimer's disease or dementia. After all, the disease is progressive. Taking steps to understand its predictable progression will allow a caregiver to mentally prepare for the future and reduce anxiety over an uncertain future. Understand that a loved one's difficult behavior usually results from confusion, disorientation, and frustration. This will assist the caregiver in letting go of blame and unfulfilled expectations.

Do you need help caring for a spouse or loved one? Respite time is essential for primary caregivers. Get the rest you need so that you can continue to provide the care your loved one depends on. Call Easy Living Services at 770-442-8664 and we'll send a qualified, compassionate caregiver to care for your loved one safely at home.

Consult Atlanta's most trusted source for quality Home Care assistance, Easy Living Services, Inc. We have supported Atlanta families in their efforts to keep loved ones fulfilled and safe at home since 1994. Call to discuss your specific needs, 770-442-8664 or visit us at:

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