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Katie Carlson is the Community Services Director for Spectrum Generations. She is from Gardiner.

I’m a mother, daughter, sister, aunt, and a caregiver to my wonderful mother who has Alzheimer’s Disease. During the day, I also serve as a Community Services Director for Spectrum Generations, the Area Agency on Aging serving older adults and Mainers with disabilities in six counties in central Maine.

All of my roles have a special meaning to me, but my role as a caregiver has had the greatest impact on my relationship with my mother. I have evolved from the child she protected, to the adult she watched over from afar, to a person who protects her as her care partner.

Being a care partner to someone with Alzheimer’s isn’t always easy, and I am hopeful that by sharing my experiences, I can help other caregivers on their journey to caring for a loved one. Being a caregiver to someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia can be an isolating undertaking with many emotional ups and downs, but early detection can make all of the difference, and there are resources out there to help caregivers navigate the challenges we may face.

Alzheimer’s is often associated with memory loss, however, it is brain failure. This is not a disease to be ashamed of, it doesn’t discriminate, and it can appear in the brains of the most intelligent, creative, and respectable people in our communities. It is not a disease that should be hidden, and identifying it early allows friends and families to plan on how to keep someone with Alzheimer’s home as long as possible while maintaining their quality of life. It is also empowering, because, like in my case, the person with Alzheimer’s can verbalize and document how they want to be cared for, so they know their wishes will be met once they lose the ability to advocate for themselves.

Shortly after my mother received her diagnosis, we consulted an attorney that specializes in elder law. They educated Mom on what was needed in order to allow my brother and I to assist with her finances and medical support and avoid the costly process of guardianship. He also shared steps that we could take in order to protect Mom’s assets and estate. I cannot stress enough how important it is to plan early on. It may be stressful in the moment to have to face this disease, but it will bring peace of mind for the course ahead.

I would also encourage you to get in touch with your local Area Agency on Aging to inquire about services that are available for you as a caregiver. At Spectrum Generations, we offer Adult Day Break, which is a cost-effective alternative to assisted living services. This service provides a safe, affordable location for caregivers to bring adults with disabilities or cognitive impairments, even for only a few hours, to allow time to run errands, work or simply take a breather. We also have an Alzheimer’s respite program that helps to cover the costs associated with paying for respite. This program can be used to help cover the costs of  PSS services, adult day break, home modifications and assistive devices.

Through Healthy Living for ME, education and support groups are offered including two classes, “Savvy Caregiver” and “Building Better Caregivers.” Both courses are free and available to caregivers statewide to provide a community of support resources, tips and tricks to help caregivers adapt to this challenging role and the shifting family dynamic.

My thoughts are with the other care partners who are helping someone navigate their days and plan for their future. The work we do is important. If you are a caregiver living in Kennebec, Knox, Lincoln, Sagadahoc, Somerset or Waldo county, I would urge you to call Spectrum Generations at 800-639-1553 today to take advantage of the services Spectrum Generations offers. The staff will work hard to help you find the resources to build a support system for you.

Most importantly, remember to take a moment to focus on you, breath, and stretch. Your health and wellbeing are important to those who rely on you.