Caregivers ask for help this holiday season

The Alzheimer’s Association of Vermont says there are 26,000 caregivers who provide 37 million hours of unpaid care. And they don’t get the holidays off.
Published: Dec. 19, 2022 at 6:15 AM EST
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ST. JOHNSBURY, Vt. (WCAX) - The Alzheimer’s Association of Vermont says there are 26,000 caregivers who provide 37 million hours of unpaid care, and they don’t get the holidays off. Many of them could use a hand and you could help.

Barbara Edelman’s partner, Darryll, is in the early stages of dementia. They learned about the mild cognitive impairment diagnosis a year and a half ago.

Since then, she’s joined multiple online and in-person support groups, including one that meets monthly in Newport.

“The more I can be prepared, the less stressful it is, and the sooner I can respond in ways that will mitigate the impact of the disease,” said Edelman.

She says her initial focus was to know the lay of the land and figure out finances. She says she’s learned strategies to help her husband, like keeping the lights on and sharing candy in the late afternoon. Edelman says candy tends to help with sundowning, which is when symptoms like irritability increase in the late afternoon and evening.

“There’s so much that we don’t have control of with this disease and basically with life that we don’t necessarily recognize,” said Edelman.

Edelman says being a caregiver can feel isolating, even at an early onset stage.

“Your loved one is changing and leaving you gradually and you know, someone described it as caregivers, loved ones of people with dementia are going through sequential loss,” said Edelman.

The holidays can present challenges where it can be harder for families to travel or host. So we asked Edelman how she recommends folks who know people who are caregivers lend a hand.

“Just give them a call, send them an email, whatever is helpful,” said Edelman.

She also said if the family traditionally hosts, relatives can offer to do so or help out with grocery shopping and cleaning.

Jordan Cotto of the Alzheimer’s Association of Vermont says the more specific the assistance, the better. Cotto adds that caregiving is a 24/7 job, and reaching out can go a long way.

“The power of connection, just reaching out sending a text. ‘Hey, thinking about you. Do you want to go for a walk? Do you want to go for a cup of tea or coffee?’ Any form of connection is super supportive,” said Cotto.

The holidays may be the first time people have seen a relative in a year, and that can be a more challenging experience the older they are. People may begin to show signs of early cognitive impairment.

“You see that or they tell you that’s a sign to talk to your doctor about memory concerns. A lot of times we hear stories about how people go out for a drive and they get lost. That’s actually the number one story that I’ve heard over the past few months is people that especially if they’re diagnosed with a younger onset,” said Cotto.

Cotto also says there are 14 free support groups in Vermont for caregivers. She says they also have a helpline-- 800-272-3900-- that gets 15 calls every other week, but she says she does not think that reflects the need of the state.