Alzheimer's Disease is one of the most common chronic conditions among the senior population, and its effects can not only be felt on the individual but the caregiver, family and community.

Alzheimer's Disease is a degenerative illness affecting the brain's abilities destroying brain cells, causing memory loss and affecting thinking and behavior. Currently, about 5.3 million Americans are affected by the debilitating disease and experts predict a disconcerting rise of the disease to affect 50 percent of the population by 2040. These shocking statistics have major implications for the research devoted to finding a cure for Alzheimer's Disease, our communities but especially the family caregivers who in the majority of cases have no training in care giving and who had not expected to be given this role.

When we are growing up, our parents are there to take care of us, make sure we are safe and have the things we need in life. However, we so rarely think that one day the roles will reverse and we will become the caregivers for our parents. This is frequently the case with those caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's Disease. It is estimated by the Alzheimer's Association that there are 10.9 million unpaid caregivers providing daily and vital care to a loved one suffering from the disease. For many of these unpaid caregivers, they are not well versed in the art of care giving or in the inner workings of the disease and each day it is a learning experience and often a new challenge will present itself. The majority of the caregivers are either spouses who themselves are elderly and facing health issues and adult children. A caregiver faces an extreme amount of stress that can become very overwhelming and frustrating if proper outlets aren't available.

Here are some tips for those caring for a loved one who is suffering from Alzheimer's Disease:

"¢ Join a support group. As more and more people are caring for someone suffering from Alzheimer's Disease, Alzheimer's support groups are becoming more available around the community. These groups are designed to provide resources, offer support and remind you that you are not alone and others may be experiencing the same troubling situations. Unfortunately, some caregivers don't have the freedom to resources to leave their loved one for an hour to attend a support group. The good news is that plenty of online and telephone-based support options available. In fact, Family Centers' Friendly Connections program offers a Alzheimer's Caregivers Support Group via the telephone.

"¢ Ask for help. It is easier said than done, but there is no shame in asking for help. Care giving can be emotionally and physically exhausting with very little relief. If there are siblings or family members who can provide some support or assistance ask them to pitch in every now and then. It is not uncommon for one adult child or one specific family member to be "in charge" of caring for a loved one without much help from others. It is important to ask for help from other family members and even help with smaller tasks can help.

"¢ Educate yourself. Talk to the professionals and learn more about the condition and what can be expected during the process of the disease's course. Work with a social worker or staff member at the local Alzheimer's Association chapter to learn what other resources may be available to you. Remember, you are not trained for this role and you are doing the best you can and there are many others in similar situations facing the same obstacles.

"¢ Do something for yourself. Caregivers are on the job 24 hours a day with very little break and will often feel a sense of guilt for wanting to take a break or engage in a different task. It is very beneficial for caregivers to remove themselves from care giving every now and then and seek an activity that helps them to relax this will actually make them more useful to the person receiving the care.

Caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's Disease can be not only mental but physically exhausting. Remember to seek resources or ask for help but find something that works for you and your situation. There is no perfect fix for this type of situation but there are things to do to lessen the stress of an intense care giving situation.

Rebecca Lippel is the manager of Family Centers' Friendly Connections senior outreach program. With offices in Greenwich, Stamford, Darien and New Canaan, Family Centers is a United Way partner agency that offers counseling and support programs for children, adults and families. Family Centers is also affiliated with the Community Fund of Darien and the New Canaan Community Foundation. For information, call 203-869-4848 or visit www.familycenters.org.