Most long-time caregivers recognize the need for emotional support and education following a diagnosis of dementia. But increasing numbers of individuals, who themselves have been diagnosed with the early stages of a progressive memory impairment, also seek supportive services to help them deal with the anxiety that such a diagnosis can provoke.
Relationships, jobs and one's own independence are likely to be challenged on many levels. Such is the case of David and his wife Carol, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease a year ago.
David and Carol first contacted Family Caregiver Alliance in 1997, seeking assistance in placing Carol's 84-year old mother, Betty in a long-term care facility. A family consultation with an FCA social worker saved them hours of phone time and provided David and Carol with the information they needed to help them find the most appropriate residential facility for Betty. They were also granted a legal consultation that provided them the opportunity to meet with an attorney to develop a money-management plan to pay for Betty's care costs.
During the family consultation, David disclosed that he had been feeling overwhelmed, and found himself more tense and impatient in his role as a caregiver than ever before. His work was also being impacted by the conflicting demands. He responded with enthusiasm to an invitation to enroll in a "Controlling Your Frustration" class offered by FCA in his community.
It was in the class that David revealed that his wife Carol had been showing signs of dementia for the past year and, that although they both recognized her increased confusion, neither had openly acknowledged the problem. However, Carol's own frustration was obvious, as were her concerns about whether she could continue working at a job she loved.
In the class, David explored his uneasiness about having a conversation with Carol concerning her memory loss. David feared that Carol would have a catastrophic reaction if he were to bring up his concerns, and did not want to cause her distress.
Fellow caregivers in the class helped David see that his fears were unfounded because his reasoning was based on his own fear, since he, himself, had described Carol as a very even-tempered and reasonable woman who had long-ago noted her family history of Alzheimer's disease. With the support of his classmates, David shared his concerns with Carol, who expressed immense relief that he had finally noticed her struggles and could help her develop a plan of action.
Carol requested a second family consultation, this time so that she and David could learn about services for herself. One of the first recommendations Carol pursued was getting an accurate diagnosis. Carol's desire to contribute to medical research led her to a nearby Alzheimer's Dementia Diagnostic Center where she underwent a thorough evaluation that included detailed psycho-social and family histories and state-of-the-art diagnostic procedures.
The tests did indeed indicate Alzheimer's. Follow-up appointments later recorded changes in her condition. Carol appreciated the monitoring since she still enjoyed working and driving and was not sure if she would be able to recognize her increased impairments.
The second recommendation Carol followed was to participate in a local support group for individuals with early stages of dementia. In that setting, and with the support of the group leader and other members, she was finally able to express her worries about the future and how to adapt to changes in her life. At the same time, David participated in a group for family members and friends of those with early Alzheimer's.
It has now been one year since David and Carol's second family consultation. Carol has reduced her work load and now works part-time. Although she is still driving, she has voluntarily limited herself to day-time driving within her neighborhood. She and David have developed a financial plan for her health care needs, and both continue to attend the early stage support group.
Carol takes pride in her maintained abilities and is grateful to know that FCA offers a variety of services that will help her and David as her disease progresses.
For additional information about family consultations and support groups for early-stage Alzheimer's call FCA at (800) 445-8106.
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