Larry King Live

LKL Exclusive: Leeza Gibbons Offers Strength and Support to Alzheimers Caregivers

Leeza Gibbons is an Emmy-winning TV/radio personality, long-time Alzheimer’s disease caregiving advocate and co-author of the caregiving book “Take Your Oxygen First.” Her commentary is an LKL Web Exclusive.

Thank God for outspoken advocates like former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who is using her considerable clout to underscore the urgent situation we face in our country due to Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Back in October, she authored a striking editorial in The New York Times on the growing epidemic of AD in our aging population. Because of the widespread impact of AD, a devastating illness that robs people of their ability to relate, remember and care for themselves, O’Connor put out a passionate directive, asking that the United States “deploy sufficient resources, scientific talent and problem-solving technologies to save our collective future.”

YES! It’s time we all “own” this disease and recognize that we must push harder for solutions and support. Having lost my mother and grandmother to the thief of Alzheimer’s, I fully support Ms. O’Connor’s timely goal.

Today I put out a similar call to action and invite you to join a new campaign - “Stand Together for AD: Strength and Support for Alzheimer’s.” The campaign was created with support from Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation and is focused specifically on helping the caregivers of patients with AD – many of whom are stressed and depressed, isolated and afraid . Because of the overwhelming pressure of caring for someone with memory loss, caregivers are at risk for a host of health problems. It is not a path caregivers should walk alone, and surviving often depends on knowing your limits and asking for help.

I know firsthand that the caregiving experience can feel like an emotional, spiritual and physical assault – a journey that many people, unfortunately, face alone. That’s why it is so important to take several key steps if you are one of the many people undertaking this difficult, but brave job. Everyone knows CPR, but for caregivers I recommend BBR: Breathe, Believe, Receive.

• Breathe: You can’t take good care of others unless you take care of yourself. Caregivers sometimes need to slow down and prioritize their own needs in order to be in the best possible condition to care for their loved ones. We say “Take Your Oxygen First,” in fact, we wrote the book on it!

• Believe: Know that you can do it – and that your efforts will be enough. Believe that, while also challenged, others have achieved this before you, get strength from them and know that what you learn on your journey will also lift others.

• Receive: Everyone has limits, and there will be days when you feel that you just can’t do it anymore. That’s why it is so important to be surrounded by an encouraging community and explore the resources around you. Sometimes you need to stop achieving and start receiving.

Taking time to breathe, believe and receive is a great start to accepting strength and support.  Caregivers can find even more at www.AlzheimersDisease.com, including tips and advice on coping and staying healthy, access to a new caregiver support program, and stories from fellow Alzheimer’s caregivers.

Larry has been a good friend and supporter of our message. He was kind enough to write the foreword for my book, “Take Your Oxygen First,” and many of those he serves through his cardiac foundation understand the caregiver struggle firsthand. Through his numerous interviews with leaders and advocates through the years, he has always focused the spotlight on ways to make it better. I thank him for the opportunity to share this message and introduce the new campaign.

I hope you will consider yourself an ambassador for “Stand Together for AD.” Every time we offer our understanding, we begin to change the reality for a caregiver who might be exhausted and depleted. We can help build an open and knowledgeable community that provides a way for all of us to offer strength and support. I believe caregivers are a national treasure. They deserve to be recognized as the heroes they are and to know that we can all march in lock step toward caring for the people who care for people. It makes life just a little bit easier each day for our noble and indispensable Alzheimer’s caregivers.