A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or dementia can be devastating for both the patient and their loved ones. In most cases, the disease affects them all, because family caregivers also take on the initial care for their loved ones. On top of the stress of the diagnosis comes the difficulty of learning how to help someone living with Alzheimer’s or other dementia. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provides this guidance for caregivers.
Tips for everyday care
Early on in Alzheimer’s and related dementias, people experience changes in thinking, remembering, and reasoning in a way that affects daily life and activities. Eventually, people with these diseases will need more help with simple, everyday tasks. This may include bathing, grooming, and dressing. It may be upsetting to the person to need help with such personal activities. Here are a few tips to consider early on and as the disease progresses:
- Try to keep a routine, such as bathing, dressing, and eating at the same time each day.
- Help the person write down to-do lists, appointments, and events in a notebook or calendar.
- Plan activities that the person enjoys and try to do them at the same time each day.
- Consider a system or reminders for helping those who must take medications regularly.
- When dressing or bathing, allow the person to do as much as possible.
- Buy loose-fitting, comfortable, easy-to-use clothing, such as clothes with elastic waistbands, fabric fasteners, or large zipper pulls instead of shoelaces, buttons, or buckles.
- Use a sturdy shower chair to support a person who is unsteady and to prevent falls. You can buy shower chairs at drug stores and medical supply stores.
- Be gentle and respectful. Tell the person what you are going to do, step by step, while you help them bathe or get dressed.
- Serve meals in a consistent, familiar place and give the person enough time to eat.
Tips for changes in communication and behavior
Communication can be hard for people with Alzheimer’s and related dementias because they have trouble remembering things. They also can become agitated and anxious, even angry. In some forms of dementia, language abilities are affected such that people have trouble finding the right words or have difficulty speaking. You may feel frustrated or impatient, but it is important to understand that the disease is causing a change in communication skills. To help make communication easier, you can:
- Reassure the person. Speak calmly. Listen to his or her concerns and frustrations. Try to show that you understand if the person is angry or fearful.
- Allow the person to keep as much control in his or her life as possible.
- Respect the person’s personal space.
- Build quiet times into the day, along with activities.
- Keep well-loved objects and photographs around the house to help the person feel more secure.
- Remind the person who you are if he or she doesn’t remember, but try not to say, “Don’t you remember?”
- Encourage a two-way conversation for as long as possible.
- Try distracting the person with an activity, such as a familiar book or photo album, if you are having trouble communicating with words.
Remember to take care of yourself
Being a caregiver can be extremely rewarding, but it can also be overwhelming. Caring for a person with Alzheimer’s or related dementia takes time and effort. It can feel lonely and frustrating. You might even feel angry, which could be a sign you are trying to take on too much. It is important to find time to take care of yourself. Spend time with friends, join a support group, keep up with your hobbies, and remember to take breaks whenever you can.
At Welbrook Santa Monica, we serve residents living with different types of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s, vascular dementia, Parkinson’s, Lewy body, and many others. Our Memory Care program allows each resident to feel valued, successful, peaceful, cared for, and loved.