Help is available for dementia patient caregivers

DES MOINES — The approaching holiday season can be the hardest time of the year for many of the 73,000 Iowans who are caring for a loved one with dementia.

Megan Benzing, program manager for the Iowa Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, says they offer a wide array of resources, programs and support groups just for caregivers. “Alz Connected is an online messaging board where they can speak to other caregivers or family and friends who are also going through a similar situation,” Benzing says. “They can ask questions, get guidance and support as they’re going through this difficult time.”

The starting point is the website, and all of the resources are free. There’s also a 24-7 helpline available at 800-272-3900. The cost of putting a loved one in a “memory care” facility can be several thousand dollars a month, so financial constraints can quickly become an issue for someone with dementia — and their family — making caregiving the best option.

“The goal is to try to keep them in their home as long as possible but because of the progression of the disease, they eventually get to a point where it’s nearly impossible for the caregiver to care for them on their own,” Benzing says. “They have to consider things such as in-home care, or putting their loved one into a care community.”

The life expectancy after diagnosis often ranges from four to eight years, but she says it can be up to 20 years, based on conditions. Being a caregiver can be particularly stressful and demanding. “Caregivers are often having to manage multiple conditions at a time,” Benzing says, “so not just memory loss, but long-term physical conditions, including gradual loss of mobility, emotional issues and behavioral and personality changes.”

A survey found about a third of responding caregivers found themselves in declining health, while more than a quarter said they’d delayed or did not do things they should for their own health. More than six-million people nationwide are living with Alzheimer’s disease, including 66,000 in Iowa.