Caregivers of sick loved ones need to remember to care for themselves

DETROIT – More than 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer's disease, and for every one person with the disease, there are three people taking care of them.

Taking care of sick loved ones can take its toll, with nearly 60 percent of Alzheimer's caregivers saying their emotional stress is high or very high and 40 percent suffering with depression.

"If you don't know someone with Alzheimer's, unfortunately, you're probably going to. So you need to know how to live with these individuals, not just to care for them, but to live with them," said Whitney Wharton, a cognitive neuroscientist at  Emory University.

Wharton studies Alzheimer's disease from the patient's side and the people who care for them. She said one of the biggest mistakes caregivers make is not caring for themselves.

"Caregivers, they will be stressed. They won't eat properly. They don't have time to exercise and that's unfortunate, because during middle age, particularly for women, is the time when we really need to take care of our bodies," Wharton said.

Local 4's Dr. Frank McGeorge agrees.

"I've seen caregivers who just spend too much time taking care of a person," McGeorge said. "They don't spend enough time on themselves and they end up resenting or getting depressed or getting angry. You need to care for yourself just as much as your loved one."

Another common mistake is always correcting the patient's stories. Wharton said reminding them that they're wrong only further confuses and upsets them.

"You can let them think that they went out to lunch yesterday when they didn't. You don't have to say, 'No, no, no, that didn't happen.' You can just say, 'Yeah, that's great, I'm glad you enjoyed yourself,'" Wharton said.

Caretakers should remember to plan for the future before the disease takes over completely. Work with the loved one to make a will, decide on power of attorney, choose an assisted living facility and, most important of all, work out a financial plan.

Wharton said another mistake caregivers make is trying to do everything alone. If you don't have family that can help out, find a support group and experts who have experience in caring for people with Alzheimer's disease. They can offer advice, tips and support that can take some stress off of you and make things easier for the person for whom you are caring.

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