Lisa Hofbauer and her mother, Doris. | Lisa Hofbauer

When Winter Haven resident Lisa Hofbauer looks back on her mother’s life, she remembers the good times.

“My mom enjoyed going to car shows. As much as she was able, she would attend local shows with my dad. She would smile so big when people commented on the vehicles.”

But with the good comes the painful memories of her time as a caregiver. Her mother, Doris, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, a progressive brain disease that impacts memory, thinking and behavior. In the later stages, individuals usually need intensive, around-the-clock care.

“There are many challenges with being a caregiver,” said Hofbauer. “For me, the most challenging was how things changed so quickly, sometimes it seemed from day to day; sleep patterns, tastes in food and drinks, energy levels and emotions.”

November is National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month and Family Caregivers Month. To mark these events, the Alzheimer’s Association Florida Gulf Coast chapter is encouraging people to lend a helping hand to more than 827,000 family members and friends serving as Alzheimer’s caregivers.

Hofbauer offered this advice to support caregivers.

“Be patient and understanding. Be okay with it if they have to cancel plans. Also, know that when they are away from home they may need to break down and cry or they may just need to sit in silence and have you tell them things will be okay and that none of what is happening is anyone's fault. Please keep coming around and never stop being a friend.”

Providing help and support to caregivers can be easier than most people think. Even little acts can make a big difference. Consider these tips:

  • Learn: Educate yourself about Alzheimer’s disease – its symptoms, its progression and the common challenges facing caregivers. The more you know, the easier it will be to find ways to help.
  • Build a Team: Organize family and friends who want to help with caregiving. The Alzheimer's Association offers links to several free, online care calendar resources that families can use to build their care team, share takes and coordinate helpers.
  • Give Caregivers a Break: Make a standing appointment to give the caregiver a break. Spend time with the person living with dementia and allow the caregiver a chance to run errands, go to their own doctor’s appointment, participate in a support group or engage in an activity that helps them recharge. Even one hour could make a big difference in providing the caregiver some relief.
  • Check In: Many Alzheimer’s and dementia caregivers report feeling isolated or alone. So start the conversation – a phone call to check in, sending a note, or stopping by for a visit can make a big difference in a caregiver’s day and help them feel supported.
  • Tackle the To-Do List: Ask for a list of errands that need to be run – such as picking up groceries or prescriptions. Offer to do yard work or other household chores. It can be hard for a caregiver to find time to complete these simple tasks that we often take for granted.
  • Be Specific and Be Flexible: Open-ended offers of support (“call me if you need anything” or “let me know if I can help”) may be well-intended, but are often dismissed. Be specific in your offer (“I’m going to the store, what do you need?”). Continue to let the caregiver know that you are there and ready to help.
  • Help for the Holidays: Holiday celebrations are often joyous occasions, but they can be challenging and stressful for families facing Alzheimer’s. Help caregivers around the holidays by offering to help with cooking, cleaning or gift shopping. If a caregiver has traditionally hosted family celebrations, offer your home instead.
  • Join the Fight: Honor a person living with the disease and their caregiver by joining the fight against Alzheimer’s. You can volunteer with the Alzheimer’s Association Florida Gulf Coast chapter, participate in fundraising events such as Walk to End Alzheimer’s, advocate for more research funding, or sign up to participate in a clinical study through the Alzheimer’s Association’s Trial Match.

“I think the biggest thing I want people to know about being a caregiver to someone with Alzheimer's or dementia is that it is okay to ask for help,” said Hofbauer. “Your family is not in this fight alone. There are so many resources available all you have to do is reach out.”

For more information on caregiving for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or other dementia, as well as local programs and services, visit alz.org/FLgulfcoast or call the Alzheimer’s Association 24/7 Helpline at 800.272.3900.

Join hundreds of other caregivers and those facing Alzheimer’s and other dementia at Walk to End Alzheimer’s Polk County presented by Lakeland Regional Health and Publix Super Market Charities. The event kicks off on Saturday, December 9 at 8 a.m. at Bonnett Springs Park. A promise garden ceremony will be held at 9 a.m. with the Walk to immediately follow. Register your team at alz.org/PolkCountyWalk.

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