Alzheimer disease is a form of dementia in which cognitive function—the ability to concentrate, think, and remember—is reduced.
Taking care of a loved one with Alzheimer’s is full of unexpected challenges. You can read as many books as you want, consult the doctor, and be as attentive as you can, and just when you think you’ve got the hang of it, the disease progresses, and you have to do it all over again.
This condition affects not only the patients but also their families, and while it is perfectly normal for everyone you know to ask how your parent or family member is doing, you’ll feel the need to be asked the same. Still, you can’t give up. You can’t escape. You need to be there for the person you love, and all you can do is to show support and try to be prepared for everything ahead of you.
Facing the Truth
When a doctor tells you that your parent has Alzheimer’s, at first, you will probably be in the denial stage or think that there is something you can do to change it. The sooner you gather all the facts about Alzheimer ’s and face the reality, the sooner you’ll be able to help your loved one.
In general, there are three stages of the disease’s progress:
Mild Alzheimer’s is a very minor decline in cognitive function. In this stage, you will notice that the person begins to forget or lose things and show trouble planning.
Moderate Alzheimer’s is when short-term memory loss becomes more noticeable and you can tell that the person has changed. In this phase, the sufferer can still complete basic daily tasks but has troubles with more complex functions.
Severe patients show advanced symptoms, which include mood changes, extensive memory loss, and inability to respond to any stimuli.
Communication as the Foundation of Care
Trying to communicate with a loved one who has Alzheimer disease is difficult, both in the sense of understanding and being understood. However, healthy communication is the key to your and the sufferer’s comfort. Here are some guidelines that could be helpful:
Use simple words and sentences.
Speak in a gentle tone of voice.
Avoid patronizing the person with Alzheimer’s. They are not babies.
Minimize distraction (turn off the TV and other devices) to help them focus on what you are saying.
Make sure you have the person’s attention before speaking, by calling him or her by name.
Don’t interrupt persons with the AD when they are speaking. They might lose their focus, forget about what they were saying, and eventually, get aggravated because of that.
Try to frame instructions and questions in a positive way.
Things will Change – Be Ready for Them
There are some problems that will arise as the disease progresses.
Incontinence or the inability to control the bladder is a frequent companion of all types of dementia. Expect accidents and show understanding when they happen. Have a routine of going to the toilet, don’t wait for the person to ask you.
Hallucinations and delusions can be particularly stressful, but you should avoid arguing with your loved one about the reality of things they see and provide a healthy distraction.
Sudden changes in behavior and mood can be really disturbing. Even if you have a history of gentle relationship with, for example, your mother, Alzheimer’s can cause her to say the most horrifying things to you and even be violent. During these incidents, you have to remain calm and supportive, despite how offended or hurt you feel. Try to find out what’s behind the outburst and solve it.
Wandering is the most dangerous aspect of this disease, particularly if you don’t live with your parent. Keeping the house safe is a priority, but you should also consider getting a medical alert system in the form of jewelry so that you always know in time when something isn’t right.
Completing the Most Basic Tasks
Severe Alzheimer’s stadium will prevent your loved one from completing the most basic tasks, including eating, bathing, and dressing. For every one of them, the key is to develop a routine.
Have everything ready for the bath, and maintain a warm temperature in the bathroom. Minimize safety risks and understand that sometimes it is OK to take a sponge bath instead.
It is vital to encourage Alzheimer’s patients to dress by themselves, but you should limit the outfit choice, and provide comfortable clothing and step-by-step instructions.
Be patient with eating and set up a quiet and friendly mealtime. Give a limited number of food choices and choose eating tools and food that promotes independence.
Finally, you need to find activities that will enrich the day of your elderly family member. Find something simple and stimulative they enjoy in and incorporate physical activities. You can always turn to adult day services which provide activities for persons with Alzheimer’s disease.
Oh, and don’t worry, we didn’t forget to ask: How are you doing?