Training for Unpaid Alzheimer’s Caregivers

Adult Son Talking To Father At Home

Q. My father is an 80-year-old widower who was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. I live close by, and will assume the role of his full-time live-in caregiver. By trade, I am an auto mechanic, and am single with no children. I don’t know the first thing about caregiving, but I am all that my father has and I really want to help him while he can still live in his own home. Is there any training for someone like me, who is basically clueless about caregiving?

A. Throughout our lives, many of us are asked to care for a loved one, whether it be a family member or friend. Your caregiving responsibility may be short-term, long-term, or indefinite (most caregiving for Alzheimer’s patients lasts an average of 10 years). Without caregiving experience, the road ahead may seem long and uncertain.

Currently, there are more than 44.4 million people in the United States, or 21% of the population, that serve as unpaid caregivers to an adult family member or friend. And luckily, there are lots of good resources out there to help.

What Caregivers Do

As you can imagine, caregiving requires an enormous physical and emotional commitment, as well as some basic skills. In the “Caregiving in the United States” survey by the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP, caregivers reported helping the care recipient with the following:

  1. transportation
  2. grocery shopping
  3. housework
  4. managing finances
  5. preparing meals
  6. helping with medication
  7. managing services

Half of all caregivers also reported assisting with the difficult tasks associated with personal care, including:

  1. getting in and out of bed and chairs
  2. getting dressed
  3. helping bathe or shower
  4. getting to and from the toilet
  5. feeding the care recipient
  6. dealing with incontinence and diapers

Where to Start

With all of these responsibilities and tasks, where is the best place to start? Below are some things you can do, as you embark on your caregiving journey:

  • Learn about Alzheimer’s: Find out all you can about the disease, its treatments, and the prognosis. Armed with this information, you and your family will have a better idea what to expect in the future and how you can help. The Alzheimer’s Association website offers a lot of valuable information.
  • Prepare the home for safe caregiving: Conduct a home safety inspection of your father’s home. For example, check for adequate lighting, install grab bars in the bathroom, and hook up a cordless phone for emergencies. Home safety information is available here.
  • Learn about how you can help with dressing and grooming, bathing, dental care, and incontinence.
  • Maintain medical records. Keep a current, complete list of all medications and physicians, along with notes on medical history. Be sure to take this if you accompany your loved one to doctors’ visits.
  • Learn how to communicate with healthcare professionals. In order to be a better advocate for your loved one, understand and use the terminology that doctors, nurses, discharge planners, therapists and other healthcare professionals use in discussing the case. Be calm but firm in advocating for being a part of the healthcare and support service decision-making.
  • Try to reduce stress, simplify activities, relax, slow the pace, and ensure that there is plenty of quiet time to reminisce.
  • Get the extended family and friends involved in caregiving. Organize and hold a family meeting involving all decision makers. Identify and discuss the issues of providing care for the family member in need.
  • Ask for help with household activities. Seek help with yard work and other household tasks. Consider asking a friend or neighbor for help.
  • Manage your time. Keep an appointment book or calendar to schedule your daily activities, including doctors’ visits.

Family caregiver training resources

Caregiving training is available through various sources in the community and online, as follows:

  • The Alzheimer’s Association offers trainings, workshops, books and DVDs on this page to gain caregiving skills and practical advice.
  • The AARP offers training resources on caregiving caring for aging parents.
  • Facebook groups are a great way to learn, because other caregivers are sharing their experiences and the solutions they have discovered. Asking questions about your unique situation will get you a variety of quality responses.
  • YouTube is a great way to find valuable videos but it can be hard to find the right one for your specific need. The Together in This channel has identified and organized many videos to make things easier for you.
  • In addition to these resources, talk to doctors, nurses, or social workers about any caregiving tasks that you are uncomfortable performing or find difficult to perform.
  • On-the-job training: The only way to survive is through ongoing self-education to aid in the “on the job training.”
  • Contact local memory-care facilities. They often have training classes for professionals and unpaid caregivers. Also, inquire about support groups; when you attend a support group, you get some of the best training possible as you learn from others who are ahead of you in this journey.

Please see our blog post, “Alzheimer’s Caregivers Need to See This,” for additional resources.

Take Care of Yourself

Caregiving can be both emotionally and mentally taxing, and can easily lead to “caregiver burnout.” Please be sure to take advantage of services that offer respite and support. Read more about alleviating caregiver stress in our blog post on the topic.

At Farr Law Firm, P.C., we recognize that caring for a loved one strains even the most resilient people. Be sure to take steps to preserve your own health and well-being. Remember, part of taking care of yourself is planning for your future and for the future care needs of your father. To make an appointment for a no cost initial consultation, please contact us:

Fairfax Elder Law: 703-691-1888
Fredericksburg Elder Law: 540-479-1435
Rockville Elder Law: 301-519-8041
DC Elder Law: 202-587-2797

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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.