Caring for someone suffering from Alzheimer’s disease is difficult, whether that person is your parent, partner or patient.
Everyone experiences the stages of Alzheimer’s differently, but at some point, patients lose the ability to perform tasks that were part of their routines previously. As the disease progresses, behaviors change and patients become more dependent on caregivers, requiring a great deal of patience and empathy.
Whatever happens, don’t get frustrated, just keep working at it. According to the CDC, 32% of caregivers looking after someone suffering from dementia provide care for five or more years. Patience and persistence are very important elements of caring for someone with dementia. But they’re not the only important aspects.
Here are some tips to help you adjust to caring for someone with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia to ensure that you have the tools do so effectively.
Change is difficult and confusing for Alzheimer’s patients and may cause them to react in different ways. For this reason, caregivers should look to create routines that provide a sense of familiarity and comfort for the patient.
A predictable routine is helpful because dementia slowly diminishes a person’s ability to plan, initiate and complete an activity. A good routine can prevent someone with dementia from becoming distracted or forgetting a task they were doing. By creating a predictable schedule of events, it’s possible for patients to move the events of a daily routine into their long-term memory, thus enhancing their ability to perform activities of daily living.
Monitor Nutrition & Hydration
People suffering from Alzheimer’s disease often forget when they last ate or had something to drink. Additionally, they struggle with remembering how to cook or being aware of normal meal times.
Caregivers should aim to create a quiet space in which they can socialize with the person during the meal and serve meals around the same time each day. Serve food that is familiar to the person and serve smaller portions as the day wears on. Finally, encourage the person to take a multivitamin with each meal and encourage them to drink plenty of fluids, regardless of whether they are eating or not. During meals, keep water on hand due to increased risk of choking due to problems associated with oral health and chewing.
A safe environment for Alzheimer’s patients is a necessity to their long-term health. The disease can cause hallucinations and confusion and impair judgment and problem-solving skills, thus increasing a person’s risk of injury.
To increase safety in the home, look to clear the floors of any clutter that could cause a fall and install hand rails in areas such as the bathroom. Put locks on cupboards with dangerous objects in them such knives, weapons, cleaning products, alcohol or medicine. Keep matches and lighters stowed away in a safe place and finally, ensure that the thermostat on both the air conditioning and hot water heater are set to reasonable limits to create a well-regulated environment whether the person is watching television or taking a bath.
Maintain Healthy Sleep Habits
Sleep is an important part of health for any older adult, but for those with Alzheimer’s, the inability to remember what time it is can sometimes cause a reversal of typical routines if not managed. It’s important to keep them busy during the day and create a relaxing routine at night. This may involve soothing music, regular bedtime and the use of night lights as waking up in complete darkness can be disorienting and alarming for these older adults.
Caregivers will want to limit day time naps for the person, instead filling the day with physically and mentally challenging activities. This will help prevent late-night wandering.
Keep Them Active
Exercise has been shown to have a positive effect on neuroplasticity. It should be a regular part of an Alzheimer’s patient’s day as it can prove to be a valuable social tool that encourages getting out of the house and being proactive about their health.
Caregivers should consider the types of activities the person can do and build an exercise program from there. It may be something small at first, but having goals will help to keep you engaged and show the person’s progression. Be sure to pick a safe location and time for the exercise to take place if it is outside of the home.
Take Care of Yourself
Lastly, you’re no good to anyone if you aren’t fit for duty. Caregivers can experience burnout and frustration just the same as a nurse or doctor. To stay at your best for the sake of yourself and the person you’re caring for, it’s important to take breaks when you need it and do things that you enjoy, such as keeping up with hobbies, spending time with friends and exercising as much as you can.
Self-care also includes eating a healthy diet and remembering to check in with your own doctor on a regular basis. If you find yourself struggling mentally, there are caregiver support groups that can help.