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Dementia's Toll on Caregivers

Being a caregiver for a loved one with dementia can be draining both emotionally and physically. But there is professional help.

According to the Alzheimer's Association, there are nearly 15 million Alzheimer’s and dementia caregivers in the U.S., many of whom suffer emotionally and  physically. Because of the toll of caregiving, Alzheimer’s and dementia caregivers had $7.9 billion in additional health care costs in 2010. More than 60 percent of family caregivers report high levels of stress, because of the prolonged duration of caregiving, and 33 percent reported symptoms of depression.

For the past 15 years, Karen Karle-Truman has been on a crusade. Her mission: Help provide caregivers of persons with dementia the support they need to reclaim their lives. 

Karen says this support includes, "when to ask for help from family, friends, clergy and the community to help ease the caregiver burden." 

It also consists of her holding regular, ongoing support groups at no cost to dementia caregivers throughout Pinellas County. 

Karen provides all of this support as president and owner of Dementia Caregivers Resources, Inc. -- a 501 © (3) non-profit organization she runs. Other services she offers include education and training of professionals who provide direct care to dementia patients. 

When you look back on this Baby Boomer's life, it becomes vividly clear why Karen started such a business and has such a passion for her work. What sparked Karen's lifelong commitment to dementia caregivers goes back to 1959, when her grandmother was placed in a nursing home due to Alzheimer's.  From there, she saw other members of her family become stricken with this mind-robbing disease, including her mother and several aunts and uncles. 

As an only child, her mother's diagnosis with Alzheimer's hit her the hardest.  At the time, she didn't know how or where to seek help. Luckily, she found an adult day care program through Neighborly Care Network, which helped a lot.  In particular, her mother's quality of life was greatly improved by the activities the program offered. It also provided Karen with the opportunity to start a caregiver support group for family members who had a loved one with dementia. 

Karen followed this by launching yet another support group after being hired by an assisted living facility. After seeing how successful these groups were for dementia caregivers, she took the next logical step. She started her own business, focusing part on providing dementia caregiver support groups.

So what is dementia?  How do you know if you might have a loved one who could be a victim of such an illness? 

Karen describes the symptoms as, "the progressive decline in cognitive function due to damage or disease in the brain beyond what might be expected from normal aging. Dementia signs include the loss of intellectual abilities like thinking, remembering, attention span and reasoning." 

Symptoms can include: memory loss, confusion, wandering, depression, disorientation, poor hygiene, poor judgment, personality changes, suspiciousness, unable to initiate activities, and agitation or sudden emotional outbursts.

Obviously, living everyday with someone having one or more of these symptoms is no easy task; the emotional and physical stress of caring for someone with dementia can become overwhelming.

Karen noted,  "More than 50% of all caregivers face depression at some point."  She says what spurs depression beyond the divisive symptoms dementia loved ones demonstrate are numerous other stresses, such as: financial jeopardy, one's own evident health deterioration, lost work time, changes in relationships, loneliness, little appreciation for his or her caregiving efforts, and various family issues. 

While being part of a support group is not the only answer for caregivers, Karen says it certainly can help.  "A support group is a safe place to talk, share, cry, form friendships and find information.  It's a place where you will find your fellow caregivers have experience and understand what you are going through.  Coping skills, stress management, referrals to special programs and personal growth are all on the agenda.  Gathering strength in a non-judgmental friendly environment with people who are on the same path, offers caregivers renewed hope."

Karen conducts her free, no reservations required, Dementia Caregiver Support Groups throughout Pinellas County.  For south county residents, her groups are held on the first and third Wednesdays of the month at 6 p.m. at Bon Secours St. Petersburg, 10401 Roosevelt Blvd. 

Should you need free respite care to attend please call (727) 563-9733.  For times and locations of other support groups in Pinellas County, visit the Dementia Caregiver Resources' website: www.dcrinc.org. 

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