LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — The holidays can be stressful for everyone, but if you’re caring for someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia, you probably feel that stress year-round.
Caregivers are often so busy meeting the needs of their loved one, they neglect their own physical and even mental health.
“I knew there was a problem. I ignored it and I think I am typical of most caregivers,” said Coco Hickman, who admits ignoring signs of a serious heart condition.
Coco and Bob Hickman spent much of their 35-year marriage traveling and chasing adventure. But the past 10 years have been a journey the fun-loving partners never planned on. Coco has become Bob’s full-time caregiver as he’s declined with Lewy body dementia.
“We call him Lewy,” Coco said causing the couple to laugh.
They try to maintain their sense of humor through this debilitating disease. Bob’s vivid hallucinations forced him to hand over the car keys. Travel now consists of routine doctor visits. Coco handles his medications, his meals, Bob’s failing memory, and all of the household duties. The emotional and physical strain is constant.
“Caregiving is such a time-intensive process and particularly in the later stages of the disease. It truly becomes a 24-hour, 7-day a week job and so as a result caregivers have less and less time for maintaining their own health,” said Dr. Lucille Carriere, a psychologist at Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health.
The couple recently moved from Las Vegas to Washington state to be near family in case of an emergency; a smart and necessary move.
“I had an issue where I had to be lifeflighted to Seattle for heart issues. Thankfully, they kept me alive until I got there,” Coco said.
She now has a pacemaker but the outcome could have been very different. Dr. Carriere urges caregivers to speak up.
“And we want you to reach out. You may not know what your needs are. As professionals, let us help you or talk to another caregiver who’s in a similar place in the journey,” said Dr. Carrierre.
Bob participates in a weekly virtual dementia music class, giving his wife some time to herself and she has joined a valuable caregiver support group.
“Social connection, human in its basic form is such a vital component along the caregiver journey to reduce those feelings of isolation, to reduce burden and strain,” Dr. Carrierre said.
Coco now realizes that her own well-being ensures that she will be there for Bob as long as he needs her.
“I can’t overstate that because if you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t take care of them.”
She also recently took a much-needed weekend away with her sister for a break and a change of scenery which is important for caregivers.
Dr. Carriere says respite is incredibly important. She also offers these suggestions.
- Reach out to family, friends, or neighbors for help so you can take a break
- Make a care plan for yourself
- Connect with people, either through a group or friend for conversation
- Stay informed of your loved one’s prognosis so you can plan ahead