Health Column: Care givers for demented loved ones are hometown heroes |

Health Column: Care givers for demented loved ones are hometown heroes

Phil Mohler, M.D.
Free Press Health Columnist

Hero or heroine — a person, who in the face of adversity, displays courage and the will for self-sacrifice.

As my practice matured over the last four decades, I became aware almost daily that I was witnessing self-sacrificing behaviors that would put the saints to shame. These are the spouses, children, grandchildren and friends of Alzheimer’s victims who have committed to care for their loved ones. These are the heroes and heroines who deal with the wandering, dirty underwear, and the same question asked for the 43rd time today.

Caregivers anguish at their loved ones’ losses — decision making, driving abilities and communication skills. They deal with the false accusations (“you stole my precious trunk, guns, money”), verbal and physical combativeness and refusal to bathe. They suffer, after months of consternation, the guilt of making the decision to move their demented loved one to a care facility. Ultimately, these courageous caregivers experience the loss of the personhood of their loved one.

If you are one of these caregivers, you are my hero or heroine — you, Kitty, Carl, Dick, Rita, Lenna and Jess and all those unknown. If you have a friend, relative or neighbor caring for an Alzheimer’s patient, acknowledge their courage and offer your support.

Recall these basic thoughts for dementia caregivers from and

By focusing on your loved one’s needs, it’s easy to fall into the trap of neglecting your own health. If you’re not getting the physical and emotional support you need, you won’t be able to provide the best level of care, and you face becoming overwhelmed.

It’s OK to ask for help. It’s important to reach out to other family members, friends, or volunteer organizations to help with the daily burden of caregiving. When someone offers to help, let them. Caregivers who take regular time away not only provide better care, but they also find more satisfaction in their caretaking roles. Many nursing homes and assisted living facilities offer respite services for situations where you feel that you are at the end of your rope.

Learn or update your caregiving skills. Being thrown into the role of caregiver doesn’t come with an instruction manual, but a wonderful book is available, “The 36-Hour Day,” by Nancy Mace and Peter Rabins, from our local book sellers and at the Mesa County Library. Online training resources, like Alzheimer’s Association, can teach you the skills you need. Connecting with others who know first-hand what you’re going through can also help reduce feelings of isolation, fear and hopelessness.

Learn how to manage stress. Caregiving for a loved one with dementia can be one of the most stressful tasks you’ll undertake in life. Combat stress with deep breathing, prayer, meditation, exercise, or yoga. Take time away from caregiving to maintain friendships, social contacts and professional networks. Pursue the hobbies and interests that bring you joy.

Some heroes/heroines wear combat boots or capes. Some don’t.

GJ Free Press health columnist Dr. Mohler has practiced family medicine in Grand Junction for 39 years. He has a particular interest in pharmaceutical education. Phil works part-time for Rocky Mountain Health Plans. Email him at

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