- CHARITY BENEFIT
Dr. Ruth K. Westheimer is a psychosexual therapist who pioneered the open dialogue about sex on the radio with her program “Sexually Speaking.” She has conquered all forms of media, appearing on or in television, newspapers, games, home video, computer software and even the web. She is also the author of more than 30 books. Pierre A. Lehu has been Dr. Ruth’s publicist and a co-author for 30 years, and they have collaborated on more than a dozen books. Living in New York City, they recently finished on a book about coping with both the practical problems and emotional stresses of Alzheimer’s care. Over 15 million Americans are responsible for the care of a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease, a situation that can quickly lead to feeling overwhelmed, with the caregiver’s physical and mental health suffering. The tactics and resources presented in this book build confidence in the caregiver and offer advice on how to avoid burnout, seek support from family and friends, resolve family disputes, and more. Keeping in mind the best interests of everyone involved, the guide also details how to coordinate effectively with doctors, facilities and other care providers.
**This article is dedicated to all my friends who are dealing with an Alzheimer’s or Dementia patient and are dealing with uncooperative family members who make their lives even more difficult. The amount of people I personally now know in this situation, is in the 20’s and climbing. T2C had a chance to ask questions of the esteemed doctor.
T2C: Why did you choose this subject to write about?
Dr. Ruth: I had several friends who are dealing with a spouse who has Alzheimer’s. They came to me for some advice and I was able to help them, so the idea was born to write this book, Dr. Ruth’s Guide for the Alzheimer’s Caregiver.
T2C: Often it’s the family members who stress out the person who is doing most of the caregiving. What would you advise?
Dr. Ruth: Taking care of someone with Alzheimer’s is very stressful. Often the health of the caregiver deteriorates badly. They don’t go to the doctor. They become depressed. What they must not do is try to do it all alone. They need help and getting that help should be a priority. Going it alone is just not a viable option.
T2C: What do you do when your siblings fight you on every suggestion?
Dr. Ruth: Sometimes you need an arbitrator. I have two suggestions. The first is the patient’s doctor. Tell the doctor what is going on and ask for help. If the doctor appreciates what you are going through, he or she will “prescribe” what to do so that it helps you. Then telling your siblings that it’s “doctor’s orders” will make it easier on you. The other way to do this is to bring in another relative, like an aunt or uncle, who will support you. A caretaker has so much to do that fighting with siblings is just too much to handle by yourself. So getting someone else to support you is key.
T2C: What is your best advice to keep the Alzheimer’s patient active?
Dr. Ruth: Since every victim of Alzheimer’s is different, there is no one solution, especially as the person will change, go through phases. But being active is very important. It prevents frustration and acting out. Let me give you one suggestion from the book. Let’s say your Dad loves baseball, but sitting in front of a TV set isn’t very active, and going to see professional games, with all the crowds, is too much. So take him to see local little league games. It will get him outside and provide mental stimulation.
T2C: If the Alzheimer’s patient becomes unhappy every time you leave, do you have a solution for that.
Dr. Ruth: There aren’t many good things about Alzheimer’s but one is that a patient’s short term memory isn’t very good. So while the patient may be unhappy right when you leave, five minutes later he or she will have forgotten. So you just have to ignore the reaction, much as one does with babies.
T2C: What is the best thing that friends can do for a caregiver?
Dr. Ruth: In the book I tell caregivers to make a list of what they need done. Even getting someone to help with little things is important, both for the actual help and so that the caregiver doesn’t feel like they’re all alone. So when someone offers help, give them the list and let them choose. People want to help, but if you’re not prepared with a list of ways they can help, these offers of help will probably go nowhere.
T2C: What about family members?
Dr. Ruth: Family members often settle into familiar roles so that, for example, the eldest sister takes over the caregiving duties. That’s OK when it’s something simple, like hosting Thanksgiving. Caregiving is too much of a burden and everyone has to pitch in. Do not take no for an answer.
T2C: What is the single most important advice that you give that all people should be aware of.
Dr. Ruth: Alzheimer’s is a complicated disease so there is no one piece of advice, but rather to read my book so that they can find the advice they need.
T2C: What’s next for you?
Dr. Ruth: The book comes out in November, my low-alcohol wine, Dr. Ruth’s Vin D’Amour is out now and I start teaching at Columbia’s Teachers College in January.