Effect of Alzheimer’s on Family Members

The patient’s spouse will likely need to process strong emotions related to the diagnosis. Many times spouses also have to deal with their own health problems. They may fear a future that will be very different from the one they had planned. Husbands and wives often are required to reverse roles and take on unfamiliar tasks. Depending on their relationship, a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s can bring couples closer together or it can alienate them. Spouses need to accept that the person they have known and loved may change dramatically in personality and behavior, and there will almost without a doubt come a time when their loved one does not recognize them. The spouse may appreciate getting together to converse and to discuss these feelings. He or she may seek offers of help with meals, transportation and other tasks, as well as simple, kind acts such as visits and respite. Caregiver training and support groups can also be very helpful and are recommended. In some cases, professional counseling may be needed.

Adult children will also need to adjust to the role reversal in caring for their parent. They may feel overwhelmed by the looming responsibilities of working within or outside the home, caring for their own children and helping their parent. Children who do not live close by may feel guilty, not fully comprehend or perhaps even deny the realities of the disease. However, family members should support the main caregiver and try to help with tasks that do not require proximity. As distressing as a parent’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis can be, this is the time to begin to accept the future, build a support network, gather information to help alleviate fears, and plan for the road ahead.

Children and adolescents are affected by Alzheimer’s as well and may feel sad, frustrated, angry or afraid if someone in the family, a grandparent for example, is diagnosed. Younger family members should be encouraged to ask questions and express feelings, and they should be honestly addressed. They need to understand that although the loved one may act differently, there are still activities they can enjoy with their relative, such as helping with chores, listening to music or reading a book. Teachers and guidance counselors should be made aware of the situation. There are also books and support groups that deal specifically with young people.

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