Alzheimer’s care for the patient and the caregiver:
Alzheimer’s care is available for both the patient and the caregiver. Obviously, proper Alzheimer’s care is only available when educating yourself and following through on the recommendations of available professionals. The following 9 suggestions should help both yourself and those that you love in providing Alzheimer’s care.
(1) Be informed. You need to become as informed as possible. The more you know about Alzheimer’s disease and other dementing illnesses, the more effective and helpful you can be for your loved ones in devising strategies to manage behavioral problems.
(2) Share your concerns with the Alzheimer’s patient. You may share your concerns with the Alzheimer’s patient if they are mildly to moderately impaired. At that stage they may be able to take some part in managing their problems. They may be able to hear your worries and grief and together devise memory aids that may help him/her to remain independent. Also, mildly impaired individuals may benefit from counseling to help them accept and adjust to their limitations.
(3) Getting enough rest. One of the more difficult things family members frequently have to deal with is that the caregiver may not get enough rest or have the opportunity away from their caregiving responsibilities. This can make the Alzheimer’s caregiver less patient and unable to tolerate irritating or frustrating behaviors. If things feel like they are getting out of hand, you should ask yourself if this may be happening to you. If so, you should try to find ways to get more rest or take more frequent breaks from your caregiving responsibilities.
(4)You should use your common sense and imagination. Your common sense and imagination are your best tools along with your ability to adapt. If something can’t be done one way, ask yourself how else it could be done or if it must be done at all. For example, if an individual with Alzheimer’s can eat with her/his fingers but not with a fork, why waste your time resisting the inevitable. Simply serve as many finger foods as possible. If they insist on sleeping with his/her hat on and this is not harmful, you probably should just go along with it.
(5) Hold on to your sense of humor. If you hold onto your sense of humor, it can get you through many crises. A person with Alzheimer’s disease is still a person and may still need to and be able to enjoy a good laugh. Also, sharing your experiences with other Alzheimer’s families may be helpful. Frequently, these other families find these shared experiences funny as well as sad.
(6) Try to establish environments with as much freedom as possible, while also maintaining structure. You need to establish a regular, predictable, and simple routine for meals, medication, exercising, bedtime and other activities. You should try to do things the same way at the same time every day. Through having an established regular routine, the Alzheimer’s individual will gradually learn what to expect. You should change routines only when they are not working. Keep the person’s surroundings reliable and very simple. Always leave furniture in the same place and put away any clutter.
(7) Remember to talk to the patient with Alzheimer’s disease. You should make it a point to speak slowly, calmly and gently. You should also make it a point of telling the Alzheimer’s patient in simple steps exactly what you are doing and why. Always let him/her be a part of deciding as many things as possible. You should always avoid talking about him/her in front of them to others and ask others to avoid this also.
(8) Have an ID necklace or bracelet made for the confused person. You should include on the bracelet, the nature of the disease (e.g. memory impaired) and your telephone number. This is probably one of the most important things you can do for an individual with Alzheimer’s disease who gets confused. Many confused people wander away or get lost at one time or another and an ID bracelet can save you from hours of frantic worry.
(9) Keep the impaired person active and then try not to upset them. Families of Alzheimer’s patients often ask if retraining, reality orientation, or keeping active will slow down or stop the course of the disease process. Some individuals with dementing illnesses like Alzheimer’s disease become listless, apathetic or depressed. Families often wonder whether encouraging them to do things will help the Alzheimer’s individual to function better.
At the present time however, the relationship between activity and its effect on Alzheimer’s is not clear. Researchers continue to assess this issue. It is known that activity is beneficial in effecting and preventing other conditions and illnesses and helps the person with this dementing illness to continue to feel like they are involved in the family and that their life has meaning.
It is also well-known that individuals with Alzheimer’s cannot learn as well because the brain is damaged or parts of it had been destroyed. It would be unrealistic to expect these individuals to learn new skills. However, some individuals can learn simple tasks if they are repeated often enough and if the dementia is in the earlier stages. On the other hand, it is important to understand that too much stimulation or activity or pressure to learn may actually upset the confused person and accomplished little to nothing. The most important fact is that you should maintain balance:
1. You should accept that the lost skills are gone forever (woman who has lost the ability to cook will not be able to do so). You should also know that by gently giving information that is within the person’s abilities, it may help them to function more comfortably (an individual going into a new health care setting may be able to learn where they are with frequent reminders).
2. Always remember that even small amounts of excitement such as visitors, laughter and other changes can upset the confused person. However, you should always remember to make things interesting and stimulating within their capabilities such as walking or visiting an old friend.
3. Look for ways to simplify activities so that the individual can continue to be involved within the limits of their capabilities (a woman who can no longer cook may still be able to peel the potatoes).
4. Focus on the things that they can still do. An individual’s intellectual abilities are not all lost at once. They will benefit by careful assessment of their abilities in an attempt to keep them involved as much as possible.
5. You may consider having a trained person come into your home to visit the Alzheimer’s patient, or try a group program such as a day care program. Day care programs often offer the ideal level of stimulation for some individuals with Alzheimer’s disease as well is giving you some time off.
By Paul Susic Ph.D. Licensed Psychologist (Geriatric Psychologist)