How to Care for Family Members with Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer’s is one of the more well known progressive diseases and it is unfortunately the most common type of dementia. It is typically defined by characteristic problems in memory and cognition, which often leads to changes in behavior. Having a family member who is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s can be tragic and very difficult to accept. Taking care of a family member with Alzheimer’s is also very difficult, especially in the later stages when everyday tasks become increasingly onerous for the person. An individual with Alzheimer’s has such a large effect on his or her family members that primary caregivers are often referred to as “invisible patients” themselves.

Taking care of family members with Alzheimer’s requires a lot of patience, flexibility, and the understanding that “love” takes a much more active role in your new relationship. There are some things to keep in mind that would help both you and your loved one with Alzheimer’s maintain a good relationship. However, it is important to remember that there is no “perfect way” to interact with someone with Alzheimer’s, and that caregiving techniques work differently for different people.

People with Alzheimer’s can become frustrated when they can no longer perform actions that they used to be able to do with ease. To help your loved one to have less agitation, you should set yourself on a constant schedule that you follow every day. For example, set a specific time in the day when you help them take a bath or eat dinner together. By setting up a routine, it becomes easier for individuals with Alzheimer’s to feel more calm and relaxed. Another key point is to be patient. Individuals with Alzheimer’s often take more time doing everyday tasks, and caregivers should take that into account when planning their schedules so they don’t have to rush their loved ones.

Also important is to allow your loved one to do things by themselves as much as physically possible. Some medical research indicate that keeping your mind active and engaged helps to combat the progression of dementia and decline in cognitive skills. This means that it is good for people with Alzheimer’s to be mentally engaged. This can mean everyday tasks, like cooking dinner together with them, cleaning the house, or doing laundry. Arts and crafts also are a great way for people with dementia to spend their time, as they require using their brains and hands, which can help to calm tremors and fidgeting. There have been cases in which withdrawn patients start talking with others after taking up knitting, making them feel more positive and happy.

However, such tasks may become more arduous as dementia progresses into its later stages. In these times, caregivers must take a more active role in the lives of their loved ones. This could include removing dangerous objects from their reach, such as knives and car keys, and using GPS or home monitoring apps to ensure that he or she is doing well while the caregiver is away. It comes increasingly important for caregivers to be patient. This means making your sentences shorter and slower, and giving them more time to do tasks. It also means establishing limitations -- for example, giving them two shirts to choose from rather than a full wardrobe, or minimizing distractions by turning off the radio when you are having a conversation with them so it is easier for them to focus.

Caregivers should never be afraid to ask for help. Although some people are resistant because it feels like they are giving up on them, it is important to know that caring for individuals with Alzheimer’s in a suboptimal manner is detrimental, both for the caretaker and the patient. Individuals with Alzheimer’s are in good hands in a treatment facility, where workers are trained professionally to treat individuals such as your loved one. A hired nurse is a good option if caregivers need a few hours of assistance. Hospitals and senior homes are a more long-term solution. It is crucial to understand your own limitations as a caretaker, and that to maintain a healthy relationship with your loved one, you may need professional help. In addition, caregivers must realize that they deserve a happy life as well. Therefore, they should also prioritize their own physical and mental well-being, as pessimistic as that may sound. In doing so, they will be able to provide better care for their loved ones.

Caring for a loved one who has Alzheimer’s is very difficult. It requires patience, effort, and a lot of devotion. Caregivers should never be afraid to ask for help and reach out if they feel they cannot take care of their loved ones by themselves. If not, they may be hurting both themselves and the ones they are trying to care for.

References:

https://www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_what_is_alzheimers.asp

http://www.alzmass.org/pdf/Late_Stage_Guide_Book.pdf

http://www.impressionsmemorycare.org/news/1494358089-“invisible-patients”-alzheimers-and-its-effects-family

http://www.sovahealthcare.co.uk/blog/post/how-to-improve-memory-loss-in-alzheimer-s-patients

https://www.webmd.com/alzheimers/guide/preventing-dementia-brain-exercises#1

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/caregivers/in-depth/alzheimers-caregiver/art-20047577?pg=1

https://www.alzheimers.net/1-16-15-look-after-parent-alzheimers/

Mary Yoshikawa