Alzheimer’s: Supporting the Caregivers

According to the World Health Organization’s World Alzheimer Report 2012, up to 75% of family caregivers develop a psychological illness as a alz brain w gearsresult of their caregiving for a family member with Alzheimer’s. Support groups can help share the burden and ensure the quality of life for family caregivers and those living with Alzheimer’s disease.  bc211 spoke with Vivian Tsai, Support and Education Coordinator for The Alzheimer Society of BC. Vivian shared some insights into the support groups the Society offers.

The Value of Support Groups

bc211: What is the real value of the support groups for Alzheimer’s clients?

VT: The Alzheimer Society of BC offers two support groups, one for those in the early stages of dementia and the other for family caregivers. Both groups benefit from having space to learn from peers and finding alternate coping mechanisms to deal with disease symptoms and caregiving tasks. This space helps to normalize their journey as they help and learn from one another. To help the group in exchanging coping mechanisms, facilitators have a topic discussion– for example, during the holiday season, they discussed holiday stress.

bc211: How can support groups help with the challenges that people face in coping with their disease?

VT: A common challenge members face with their disease is memory loss and the confusion that it inflicts. In the early stages, these challenges AS-LivingWithDementia-CM9phase in and out and can make life difficult. For example, a client can be going somewhere and get momentarily distracted, then in the next moment, become confused because they can’t remember what task they had originally set out to complete. In the group they explore ways they can cope during those challenging moments.

The Emotional Impact

bc211: What are the emotional aspects of dealing with the disease?

VT: Along with the challenges of memory loss, members face some major emotions. For both the individual and caregiver, there is a sense of loss and grief. As the disease advances, it is evident that the person has significantly changed and there is nothing that can reverse the symptoms.

bc211: How might challenges for the caregiver change as the disease progresses?

VT: As the symptoms progress there will be days where the caregiver will struggle with guilt for no longer wanting to provide 24-hour care. And then begins their contemplation of the “right time” to have their loved one moved into a residential care home. This process in their journey is difficult because there will be good and bad days; bad days they are too frustrated to provide care and then good days give cause for hope that all is ok, and their loved one was themselves that day.

elderly-friendsOn those bad days, frustration takes over and caregivers either say they are ready to have their loved one go into a care home, or put on a waitlist. Waitlists for residential care hardly exist for clients who have Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias because clients who have been assessed by a case manager and deemed ready to transition into a care home are automatically placed in a priority access system.

Although a client could potentially get into a residential care home right away, it all really depends on the case manager’s assessment. This can be a very frustrating time for families when they are ready to make the move. Family caregivers see both the good and bad days. However if a case manager only sees the client on a good day, this may affect the assessment.

Caregiver Burnout

With all the challenges and emotions that family caregivers experience there is definitely a possibility of caregiver burnout. The Alzheimer Society of BC supports families by ensuring they are connected. They empower families by linking them to services such as home support, health services, one-on-one emotional support (in person or on the phone), and the Dementia Helpline.


If you are a caregiver of someone with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias and need some support. The Alzheimer Society of BC offers educational programs throughout the province to educate and empower people with dementia, their families and friends.  Check out the Family Caregiver Series on the Society’s website.

The Dementia Helpline is a province-wide service for people with dementia, their caregivers, family and friends. The Helpline assists individuals in building the confidence to maintain quality of life when facing dementia.

Lower Mainland: 604-681-8651
Province-wide: 1-800-936-6033

And to find local Alzheimer resources call 2-1-1 today or visit the Red Book Online for more Alzheimer resources.