Seniors attending a support group

The Benefits of Joining a Dementia Caregiver Support Group

REUT-FlagFamily caregivers – adults who are providing unpaid care to a senior individual – are not an unusual phenomenon. In fact, it’s estimated that more than 45 million Americans are a caregiver to one or more older individuals. 16 million of these individuals are caring for an older adult with dementia like Alzheimer’s disease. Obviously, these people are not alone in their experiences…but for many, it can feel like no one can understand what they’re going through.

“Anytime we go through a stressful or overwhelming situation in our life, it’s easy to become disconnected and even isolated,” says Andrea Campisi, Marketing and Admissions Director of The Reutlinger Community, a Continuing Care Retirement Community in Danville, CA. And very few things in life, she says, are as stressful as caregiving someone with dementia. It’s a 24/7 job with no holiday time or sick leave, which makes for one tired individual who’s neglecting to care for someone very important…themselves.

That’s why, says Andrea, joining a caregiver support group is practically essential for caregivers. “Although it may at first seem like just one more thing to do, the benefits of joining a group far outweigh the extra time it takes to attend a meeting. Think of it like exercising, eating a healthy diet or getting a good night’s sleep – support groups are just one more facet of a balanced, wellness-focused lifestyle.”

What Is a Support Group?

A support group is a meeting of individuals who are all experiencing the same life event or situation, such as the death of a spouse, surviving cancer or, in your case, caregiving for someone with dementia. They can take many forms, from a traditional “sit in a circle and someone leads a discussion” type of group to an online-only forum where people post and respond to messages on the board or do a live chat. They can be large (although it’s usually kept to a manageable size so everyone’s voice is heard), or they can be as small as two or three people. The nice part with all this flexibility and variety means it’s easier than ever for caregivers to find a group that has the right vibe and approach for them.

Seven Benefits of Joining a Support Group

It provides a network of social support.
One of the biggest reasons why support groups can be so beneficial to caregivers is that you’re instantly among individuals who are there to provide a social network. It’s not unusual for people to form fast and strong friendships with others in the group due to shared experiences. This can be a comfort for caregivers who haven’t been able to reach out to friends and family for support for one reason or another, or who have simply had to become more isolated due to the task of caring for their loved one.

Support groups provide validation, understanding and a listening ear – and, often, advice. You’ll find that support groups are made up of people who are at various different stages of their caregiving journey, which can be a huge boon when it comes to getting information, learning about resources or simply asking, “is it normal for me to be doing/feeling/acting this way?”

It reduces stress and depression.
Heightened stress for long periods of time is not good for the human body. When we’re not able to relax and give ourselves breathing room, we experience all sorts of unwanted and potentially dangerous side effects, like high blood pressure, mood swings, depression and other mental issues. It’s very hard to relax if you feel like you’re not being understood, are alone in your struggle or are feeling judged by others. Joining a support group will instantly place you in a group of others just like you who are there for the purpose of helping each other. Plus, going to a support group allows you to get away from your responsibilities for an hour or so, which allows you to focus on your needs, resulting in less stress and a happier caregiver.

You gain a sense of control of your situation.
Dementia is a progressive disease, but it’s not a predictable one. What worked yesterday to keep your loved one safe and happy may not work at all today. Your loved one may suddenly start acting in a way that seems completely out of the blue. By talking with other caregivers and learning what to expect or anticipate with the disease, you’ll be able to better weather the storms and react to difficult issues. It also helps you understand that there’s no one way you should be doing/thinking/feeling, which can be very freeing to those who worry about doing things “right.”

You gain invaluable information and advice.
Oftentimes, support groups will also experts to speak at the meetings so the event is educational as well as supportive or social. These experts are a great way to get treatment options, advice on caregiving and advances that are being made in medical research. Informally, you can get caregiving tips from others in the group who are dealing with or who have dealt with the same issue you’re experiencing.

You learn self-care skills.
Being able to cope with everything life is throwing at you and finding ways to do nice things for yourself – however small – will greatly improve your quality of life. This includes taking time for yourself, like reading a book or calling a friend, but it also includes coping skills like practicing mindfulness, allowing yourself grace and giving permission to say “I don’t know.” Think of these things like little gifts you can give yourself to help reduce your stress and worry.

It helps you understand what to expect down the road.
Since dementia is a progressive disease, you know that your loved one will continue to decline. Talking with others and finding out how they handled or approached that will give you a vision for what lies ahead and how to prepare. Surprisingly, this can help people feel less stressed about the future, because they won’t be taken by surprise by different behaviors or actions from their loved one.

It improves your caregiving skills.
It sounds trite, but it’s true: support groups give you the support you need in order to be a better caregiver for your loved one. You simply can’t be the best caregiver possible if you aren’t caring for yourself. By finding the support, information and assurance you need to feel more confident and healthy, you’ll be more refreshed and able to give your loved one with dementia the care he or she needs and deserves.

For more information about support groups for dementia caregivers, or to learn more about our community, mission and values, please contact us at 925-272-0261.

Premier Senior Living, Dedicated Care

The Reutlinger Community’s mission is to provide high quality health care and social support services in a life-enhancing and stimulating environment with a commitment to Jewish values.

Offering Assisted Living, Enhanced Assisted Living, Memory Care, Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation, The Reutlinger Community provides a continuum of care that allows seniors to live a life-enhancing and stimulating environment. Located in Danville, California, The Reutlinger Community’s newly renovated, 110,000 square foot community combines the comfort and familiarity of home with seasoned senior care and skilled nursing specialists to suit any senior’s needs, allowing them to live the life they choose with freedom and security.

Because we specialize in a continuum of care, our residents never need to worry about leaving the community they call home or wonder what will happen when they need some more care. Residents and families alike can have peace of mind knowing that there are full-time licensed nurses available, along with activity coordinators, social workers, caregivers, a concierge and Rabbi who focus solely on helping each resident thrive. Even better, our services and amenities are equal to those of a state-of-the-art resort. This is the lifestyle and care that your loved one deserves.

At The Reutlinger Community, seniors have numerous opportunities to engage in award-winning programs that are designed to engage the mind, renew the spirit and provide opportunities to meet new people and learn something new. Whether residents are enjoying our art program and museum, listening to a lecture or educational program or attending spiritual programming and our wide range of activities, there’s something for each resident to love. Participate as much or as little as you like, the choice is all yours.

For more information or to schedule a personal tour, contact us today.

stylized number five

5 Rules for New Dementia Caregivers

REUT-FlagA diagnosis of dementia is life-changing, both for the individual diagnosed and their caregiver. For many caregivers, this may be the first experience they’ve had with caregiving or even seeing what dementia is like up close and personal. It can be a daunting task, and it’s natural to feel overwhelmed and unsure of where to start.

“It’s okay to not know everything about caregiving when you start out,” says Andrea Campisi, Marketing and Admissions Director of The Reutlinger Community, a Continuing Care Retirement Community in Danville, CA. “The dementia journey is different for every person, so there’s no one rule book that will lay out the ‘right way’ to be a caregiver.” The most important thing, she says, is to approach your role with an open mind, a positive yet realistic attitude and a thirst for knowledge.

“Dementia is a progressive disease, and one day can be completely different from the next in terms of your challenges and your loved one’s needs,” Andrea says. “Having the right attitude is essential to your success because it allows you to face and deal with the new normal and give you the tools you need to provide the best care for your loved one and yourself – now, and in the future.”

The 5 Rules for New Dementia Caregivers

While no one can know exactly what the future holds for you and your loved one, Andrea says there are five core rules that new dementia caregivers should take to heart. “Having these rules internalized and understood will give you an element of control as a caregiver, plus keep you from being completely surprised of overwhelmed when challenges occur.”

Rule #1: Learn as much as you can about the disease.
For example, did you know that the term “dementia” is a blanket term for a variety of cognitive disorders including (but not limited to) Alzheimer’s disease, Pick’s disease, frontotemporal dementia and vascular dementia? And did you know that each form of dementia can manifest and progress differently? If this is your first time experiencing the effects of dementia, researching the type of dementia your loved one has will give you a great foundation for understanding what’s happening now, what will happen in the future and how best to provide a safe, loving and secure care environment for your loved one.

Learning as much as you can about the disease as early as possible will help you better be prepared for the changes that are to come, says Andrea. While memory loss is a hallmark symptom of dementia, there are many other symptoms that will occur, such as the loss of physical abilities, mood swings, behavioral changes and others. Understanding that these symptoms – which can seem to occur suddenly – are an effect of the disease and not a part of your loved one’s personality will help you better work through them. Finally, having knowledge about the disease will enable you to be the best advocate for your loved one with medical professionals, family members and other caregivers.

Rule #2: Plan for the future.
There are lots of unknowns when it comes to dementia. The one sure thing, however, is that your loved one’s abilities will dwindle until they go away entirely. This is a sobering fact to reckon with and can be very hard for friends and family members to accept. However, knowing that the status quo will eventually change means that you and your loved one can be proactive about planning for the future. This involves financial and legal planning (getting affairs in order, issuing powers of attorney, setting up living wills, etc.) as well as determining care options (Will your loved one be cared for at home? Do you need to hire an in-home caregiver? What will happen when the needed care becomes too great for you to handle as a caregiver)? The earlier you can begin planning for the future, the more able your loved one will be able to provide input, share information and get their preferences and desires set down on paper.

Rule #3: Accept help.
Trying to take on every aspect of caregiving may seem valiant and selfless, but we’ll be frank – you’re setting yourself up for failure. The truth of the matter is that no one person can handle everything all the time by themselves. (Remember, even professional caregivers are allowed to take a break and go home after their shift ends.) Never be afraid to ask for help, and take advantage when friends and family reach out to ask what they can do. Sit down and figure out what tasks you can delegate, and what type of support would be most helpful to you when. For example, perhaps you’re not the greatest when it comes to managing financial matters, but your sister is a whiz at it. Or you have a retired neighbor who’s been a longtime friend of your loved one who’s willing to sit with them once or twice a week while you run errands. Look for opportunities in your community as well – your local Area Agency on Aging will have contacts with caregivers, nonprofit organizations and other resources that can help ease the burden of caregiving.

Rule #4: Be realistic.
Being realistic has two parts to it. First, you need to be realistic about what you can do and the assistance you can provide as a caregiver. There will be times when you slip up, become frustrated or otherwise act like the human being you are. Keeping in mind that you can only do what you can do, accepting your imperfection and making the most of each day will help you be kind to yourself – and the best caregiver possible.

The second part of being realistic is understanding how the disease progresses and what is going to happen in the future. Your loved one will never be able to regain the abilities they lose, and eventually he or she will need more assistance than you can provide on your own. Knowing what’s ahead doesn’t mean that you’re ‘giving up’ or a bad person – it actually means you’re providing the most thoughtful, compassionate assistance possible. 

Rule #5: Care for yourself as well as your loved one.
The majority of caregivers report experiencing extreme stress and anxiety due to their role. Left unchecked, this stress can lead to caregiver burnout, which is a serious condition that can cause real, severe health issues. In order to be a good caregiver, you have to first make sure you’re caring for your needs. It’s the old airplane analogy: you need to make sure your oxygen mask is in place before assisting others. Eat a healthy diet, get plenty of exercise and find ways to do nice things for yourself on a regular basis. Remember, you are a whole person outside of your role as a caregiver, and it’s important for you to nurture all aspects of your life. Staying socially connected and finding joy where you can will allow you to refocus, refresh and be ready to handle caregiving with a positive, caring attitude.

For more information about being a dementia caregiver, or to learn more about our community, mission and values, please contact us at 925-272-0261.

Premier Senior Living, Dedicated Care

The Reutlinger Community’s mission is to provide high quality health care and social support services in a life-enhancing and stimulating environment with a commitment to Jewish values.

Offering Assisted Living, Enhanced Assisted Living, Memory Care, Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation, The Reutlinger Community provides a continuum of care that allows seniors to live a life-enhancing and stimulating environment. Located in Danville, California, The Reutlinger Community’s newly renovated, 110,000 square foot community combines the comfort and familiarity of home with seasoned senior care and skilled nursing specialists to suit any senior’s needs, allowing them to live the life they choose with freedom and security.

Because we specialize in a continuum of care, our residents never need to worry about leaving the community they call home or wonder what will happen when they need some more care. Residents and families alike can have peace of mind knowing that there are full-time licensed nurses available, along with activity coordinators, social workers, caregivers, a concierge and Rabbi who focus solely on helping each resident thrive. Even better, our services and amenities are equal to those of a state-of-the-art resort. This is the lifestyle and care that your loved one deserves.

At The Reutlinger Community, seniors have numerous opportunities to engage in award-winning programs that are designed to engage the mind, renew the spirit and provide opportunities to meet new people and learn something new. Whether residents are enjoying our art program and museum, listening to a lecture or educational program or attending spiritual programming and our wide range of activities, there’s something for each resident to love. Participate as much or as little as you like, the choice is all yours.

For more information or to schedule a personal tour, contact us today.

caregiver holding her head as if she has a headache

Caregiver SOS: How to Avoid Burnout and Fatigue

REUT-FlagDo you know the warning signs of caregiver burnout?

Whether you know someone who’s a caregiver or if you’re a caregiver yourself, it’s important to understand and recognize when a situation is becoming untenable. More than 40 million adults in North America are caregiving at least one loved one while also balancing other obligations. Many of these individuals (you may be one yourself) start performing this task out of a sense of duty or love, and for a while, the task may be sustainable.

But things can quickly spiral out of control, according to Andrea Campisi, Marketing and Admissions Director of The Reutlinger Community, a Continuing Care Retirement Community in Danville, CA.

“Being a caregiver can be a very rewarding experience, but it is also one of the most stressful situations you can find yourself in,” she says. “This is particularly true if the person you’re caring for has a dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease, which requires around-the-clock care. Most family caregivers aren’t professional caregivers – they’re often spouses, parents and employees as well. Balancing the ‘regular’ responsibilities with the caregiving responsibilities can lead to extreme emotional, mental and physical fatigue.”

This fatigue is known as caregiver burnout, and many times caregivers and their loved ones don’t realize it’s happening until they’re deep in it.

“Our bodies aren’t meant to deal with stress on a constant basis,” says Andrea. “The heightened emotion of fight-or-flight causes the hormones to get out of whack in our body, leading to a variety of mental and physical issues. This includes depression, anger, a lowered immune system, cardiovascular issues and more.”

If you or someone you know is exhibiting the signs of caregiver fatigue or burnout, immediate steps must be taken to keep the caregiver from falling into a slump, experiencing a health issue and ultimately providing poor care for their loved one.

“If you notice any of these signs, consider it an SOS,” says Andrea.

Warning Signs of Caregiver Fatigue and Burnout

There are many signs of burnout, and a caregiver may experience one, several, or all of them. If you’re noticing any of these issues, consider them big flashing red lights of caution:

  • A lack of energy
  • Sleeping issues (either too much or too little)
  • Depression, mood swings and feelings of hopelessness
  • Becoming ill with more frequency and staying sick for longer
  • Sudden weight gain or loss
  • Overwhelming fatigue
  • Withdrawing from activities and becoming socially isolated
  • Having difficulty coping with everyday tasks
  • Becoming increasingly resentful of the person you’re caring for
  • Stomach issues such as ulcers

Avoiding Burnout and Fatigue

Andrea says it’s important for friends and family of the caregiver to know what signs to look for in order to intervene if the caregiver isn’t caring for themself. “When a caregiver is in the thick of everyday life, it can be hard to take a step back and see how bad things have become,” she says. “Sometimes it takes an outside figure to recognize the issues and take steps towards making things better.”

Ask for help. Asking for help doesn’t make a person a bad caregiver. In fact, it shows great strength to know when you’re overwhelmed and need assistance. Remember that no one can do it alone. Reach out to friends and family with specific requests, such as watching your loved one for an afternoon, or picking up groceries while they’re running errands. If you know a caregiver, tell them point-blank how you’re willing to help and offer it whenever you can – for example, if you’re running to the grocery store, call your friend and say, “what can I pick up for you while I’m there?”

Remember the importance of breaks. Give yourself permission to take a break on a regular basis. Go on a walk around the block, read a book, watch a favorite TV show or head to the spa for a massage. As a caring friend or family member, offer to watch the individual with dementia so the caregiver can get out of the house and feel worry- and guilt-free.

Look into community resources. Besides friends and family, reach out to local agencies and organizations who might be able to help you have a bit of respite. Your local Area Agency on Aging is a great place to start. There are many organizations out there – transportation services, meal services, even on-call caregivers and home aides who could come in as often as you’d like. Memory care communities and senior centers may offer adult day care services, informational classes and other support networks.

Take care of your health. Eating right, getting enough sleep and regular physical activity are three of the most important ways caregivers can stay healthy and stave off caregiver strain and stress. The trick is to be creative and find ways to carve out time in your busy schedule. Grab little snippets of exercise here and there throughout your day (such as walking around the block, going up and down the stairs or doing sit-ups while watching Netflix). Set a sleep schedule and adhere to it. Create meal plans for the week and map out what’s needed in order to create healthy, nutritious meals for you and your loved one. Home meal kits like Blue Apron or grocery delivery services can be a great boon.

Stay connected. It’s easy to let caregiving become the central – and sole – focus of your life, but it’s important for caregivers to remember that they’re many other things besides just a caregiver. If you’re married, take time for date night with your spouse. Continue attending book club or happy hour with the girls, at least once in a while. And look into support groups where you can get connected to others who know exactly what you’re going through. Human beings thrive when we feel recognized, acknowledged and respected.

“The best way to avoid caregiver burnout is by finding those opportunities that fill you up, give you joy and make you happy,” says Andrea.

For more information about avoiding caregiver fatigue and burnout, or to learn more about our community, mission and values, please contact us at 925-272-0261.

Premier Senior Living, Dedicated Care

The Reutlinger Community’s mission is to provide high quality health care and social support services in a life-enhancing and stimulating environment with a commitment to Jewish values.

Offering Assisted Living, Enhanced Assisted Living, Memory Care, Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation, The Reutlinger Community provides a continuum of care that allows seniors to live a life-enhancing and stimulating environment. Located in Danville, California, The Reutlinger Community’s newly renovated, 110,000 square foot community combines the comfort and familiarity of home with seasoned senior care and skilled nursing specialists to suit any senior’s needs, allowing them to live the life they choose with freedom and security.

Because we specialize in a continuum of care, our residents never need to worry about leaving the community they call home or wonder what will happen when they need some more care. Residents and families alike can have peace of mind knowing that there are full-time licensed nurses available, along with activity coordinators, social workers, caregivers, a concierge and Rabbi who focus solely on helping each resident thrive. Even better, our services and amenities are equal to those of a state-of-the-art resort. This is the lifestyle and care that your loved one deserves.

At The Reutlinger Community, seniors have numerous opportunities to engage in award-winning programs that are designed to engage the mind, renew the spirit and provide opportunities to meet new people and learn something new. Whether residents are enjoying our art program and museum, listening to a lecture or educational program or attending spiritual programming and our wide range of activities, there’s something for each resident to love. Participate as much or as little as you like, the choice is all yours.

For more information or to schedule a personal tour, contact us today.