Alzheimer's Disease

Caring for a Loved One with Dementia

We can never prepare ourselves for the changes that take place when we learn a loved one has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia.  The emotional and physical demands that come with being a caregiver can be unexpected and overwhelming.  Watching a loved one live with dementia and learning how to navigate the day to day changes can be a challenge, to say the least.  However, when we are called to step up to the plate, we do so!  Despite the unknowns that naturally come along with the diagnosis, we can take steps to prepare ourselves to provide the best care possible.  Though each journey is different and every family responds in their own way, here are some tips to help you as you transition into your new role as a caregiver.

Everyday Care   

Establishing routines is critical in carrying out everyday tasks.  In a world of confusion and uncertainty, routines and schedules help to provide a consistent approach to daily activities.  Having a set time for activities such as bathing, dressing, and eating, establishes a solid foundation for each day.  Additionally, assisting your loved one in creating a to-do list, or calendaring important appointments and events, can help you to stay organized and aware.   All of these practices can help to ensure that critical tasks aren’t missed or forgotten.

Self cafe is an important part of anyone’s day and should also be a priority for your loved one.  As long as they are able to independently and safely complete these tasks, encourage them to do so without your assistance.  This gives them a sense of pride and helps to boost their confidence.  If needed, you can make appropriate accommodations to help them with day to day activities.  

You can simplify their wardrobe and choose items that are easy to put on and take off on their own.  Pants with elastic waistbands, loose shirts, basic clasps, and large zippers are all user-friendly options that make getting dressed a fuss-free task.  Laying out clothing ahead of time, or creating a capsule wardrobe, can help to achieve an easy, put-together look.  

For bath time, make sure their space is easily accessible and safe for independent use; install safety rails and provide a sturdy shower chair to prevent a dangerous fall.  If your loved one is not able to independently complete these tasks, be sure your approach and delivery is respectful and upholds their dignity.  Communicate what you are going to do, step by step, as you assist them in bathing or dressing.

Meals are best served in the same location each day, providing consistency and familiarity for your loved one.  Simple, everyday tasks such as eating meals tend to take longer for dementia patients, so be sure to allow ample time for meals.  Though your loved one may no longer be able to independently prepare their meals, they can still be a part of the process in other ways.  Give them appropriate tasks like dressing the salad, setting the table, or helping with meal planning, when it applies.  

The biggest takeaway with day to day dementia care is to be FLEXIBLE!  No matter how well you plan out the day, or how sincere your intentions are, something is likely to go awry.  Reevaluate and readjust as needed, and try not to take it personally; rather find ways to adapt to the changes to best suit your loved one and their needs. 

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Communication and Behavior

One of the most noted changes among Alzheimer’s and dementia patients is the change in their cognitive abilities.  It’s likely that one of the first things you noticed was their inability to easily remember or recall information.  This can lead to feelings of frustration, irritability, anger, fear, and sadness, amongst other emotions.  They may have a difficult time expressing themselves or finding the words they need to get their point across.  Naturally, this can lead to tense situations between the caregiver and the patient.  At times, it’s difficult to keep your composure, but the best thing to do is take a step back before you react.  Allow yourself time to recollect and appropriately respond to the situation.  Remember the slew of feelings that they’re likely experiencing and try your best to acknowledge and validate those feelings.  Try to take the emphasis away from “who is right or wrong” and direct it towards a solution to the problem that benefits all parties.  

Encouraging two-way conversation is extremely beneficial in stimulating the cognitive abilities of your loved ones.  Try to choose topics that they can partake in and ask questions that they can answer.  When necessary, remind them of who you are or what your plans for the day will include.  You may find that you have to repeat yourself several times, or that they are repeating the same stories over and over again; that is okay and to be expected.  Treat it as though it’s the first time you are hearing it or sharing the information; try to avoid saying “Remember, you already told me that!” or “I already told you that!”.

A Healthy & Active Lifestyle

When it comes to dementia care, there are clearly things that can not be controlled.  Instead, try to focus on the areas that you can control, such as their environment.  Promoting a healthy lifestyle is something that should be strongly encouraged.  What type of activities did your loved one enjoy prior to their diagnosis?  Were they talented painters or a pro on the golf course?  Did they have a green thumb?  Could they rival Betty Crocker in the kitchen?  Whatever talent or favorite pastime they had is a great place to start.  See if there’s a way they can still partake in these activities, in some capacity.  If they are no longer able to play golf, maybe they can still go out with the boys and enjoy riding along in the cart and watching the game.  Encourage them to tag along for the game of bridge, even if they are just a bystander.  Keeping the social interactions is important for both their cognitive abilities and their self esteem.  

Simpler activities such as puzzles, arts and crafts, and Bible studies or prayer groups are often offered at senior living facilities.  Review the activities schedule and encourage them to take part in any that may interest them.

Dementia care is hard, yet rewarding, work.  Surround yourself with a support team and prioritize what’s important.  Always remember that your main goal is to provide meaningful care for your loved one.  Keep their best interest at heart and stay flexible!