Alzheimer's and dementia caregiving takes patience and understanding. The illness is hard for the patient, but it's also hard for the caretaker. Consider practical tips that you should keep in mind when caring for the elderly with Alzheimer's.
The 8 Fundamentals in Caring for Someone With Alzheimer's Disease
- What is Alzheimer's Disease?
- Three Major Phases of Alzheimer's
- Caring for Someone With Alzheimer's Disease
- Final Thoughts
It is challenging to care for an elderly loved one. If you add Alzheimer's Disease in the picture, that is when it can be incredibly daunting.
If you are tasked to care for a loved one who has Alzheimer's, you need to have a solid understanding of this condition.
What is Alzheimer's Disease?
Alzheimer's disease is a type of dementia, usually in the pronounced stages. The symptoms are progressive, which means it worsens over time.
Usually, people diagnosed with Alzheimer's live around four to eight years after the disease is confirmed. However, some can more than a decade after their diagnosis.
Three Major Phases of Alzheimer's
The brain of an elderly diagnosed with the disease can change long before the symptoms show up.
Here are the three stages of Alzheimer's disease according to the National Institute on Aging:
Mild (Early Stage)
In the initial phases, the individual can still live independently. They can work, drive, and go on with their social life.
However, they might notice some changes, such as:
- Forgetting recent events or the names of people they're familiar with.
- Have a hard time with numbers.
- Lose the ability to organize, plan events.
- Difficulty coming up with a grocery list or looking for items in the store.
Moderate (Middle Stage)
Usually, this stage lasts a lot longer than the other stages. In most cases, people can be in this stage for years.
The symptoms are:
- Difficulty following instructions, paying bills
- Trouble getting dressed
- Memory loss
- Becoming restless, wandering
Severe (Late Stage)
Usually, this is the last and final stage. People who are in this stage show the following symptoms:
- Need 24/7 care
- Difficulty walking or standing up without assistance
- Difficulty eating or swallowing
- Changes in the person's personality
Caring for Someone With Alzheimer's Disease
Here are several ways you can care for someone with Alzheimer's calmly and safely. Having a solid care team by their side also makes it a lot easier.
Start With a Plan
As the disease progresses, you might need more help. That's why you need to begin to think long-term and start with a plan.
You might not anticipate everything, but having a forward-thinking mindset allows you to respond more effectively.
It will also help if you spread the caregiving tasks from the beginning because, chances are, you couldn't do everything on your own.
- Build a team. Build a team of medical professionals, friends, and family who can be your caregiving helpmates. And since we're considering that a loved one has a degenerative disease, it would also help to search for a suitable memory care community that provides professional help for someone with Alzheimer's.
- Know tasks. Ask team members if they're willing to contribute. Are they available for medical appointments? Help prepare meals a couple of times a week? Can they do jobs like ordering prescriptions or paying bills?
- Listen to your loved one. As much as possible, you should involve the person you're caring for in discussing their needs and plans. They're, in fact, the essential members of your caregiving team.
It would be best to prepare when they might already need professional care in a residential setting. This often involves financial planning on your end. You also need to identify what are the most appropriate care options in your location.
Keep in mind that their needs will increase over time. So, plan for any transitions that might happen in the future, like finding excellent Alzheimer's facilities in your area.
Build a Safe Environment
Over time, the disease will affect the person's judgment and problem-solving skills and increase the risk of injury.
Here are some quick tips you can follow to build a safe environment:
- Falls prevention. Get rid of extension cords, rugs, and other clutter that might cause falls. You can install handrails or grab bars in critical areas as well.
- Install locks. Place locks on cabinets that might contain medicine, toxic cleaning substances, alcohol, and guns. The same thing goes for drawers and cupboards that house dangerous tools and utensils.
- Check the water temperature. To prevent burns, reduce the thermostat on the heater.
Take necessary fire safety precautions. Make sure that lighters and matches are out of reach. If the person smokes, supervise them when smoking. Ensure that you have a fire extinguisher and the batteries of your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are changed regularly.
Learn as Much as You Can
Again, a classic symptom of someone with Alzheimer's is memory loss.
While it's one of the most common symptoms, they might also experience a neurological decline that can lead to other issues. For instance, a person may start to develop erratic moods and problematic behaviors.
During the later stages of the disease, patients with Alzheimer's couldn't do activities of daily living on their own. They might be unable to recognize their loved ones.
That's why you need to learn more about the condition and how it's going to progress. By building awareness, you can better equip yourself for future challenges. It also allows you to reduce frustration and have reasonable expectations.
Know the Available Resources
You can also learn more about the disease by reading books, attending seminars, and joining a support group in addition to an internet search or talking with long-term care professionals. There are also assisted living communities that can connect you with social workers who can teach you how to take care of a senior family member with Alzheimer's Disease.
There are also plenty of community resources that will help you in this journey. You can look for an Alzheimer's Association in your country.
Usually, organizations like this offer support, advice, helplines, and training. They can also allow you to get in touch with support groups in your area.
Take the Appropriate Steps
You should also be aware of the treatments available to slow down the progression of symptoms.
Healthy activities like exercising, eating healthy, quality sleep, managing stress, and staying mentally and socially active are the best ways you can enhance brain health. It also slows down the process of deterioration.
You should also make these healthy lifestyle changes along with your loved one. That way, you can take care of your health and decrease the stress of caregiving.
Consider the Finances
On average, people with Alzheimer's live for four to eight years after they've been diagnosed. However, according to the Alzheimer's Association, they can live as long as 20 years.
This means bigger caregiving and healthcare costs in the future. Therefore, it helps that you come up with a strategy on how you can afford it.
It's also crucial for people suffering from the disease to shelter their assets. That's because someone can take advantage of their condition. This can lead to someone taking over their finances and properties without their knowledge.
Here are some tips:
- Start a discussion. It might be challenging to talk about money, but it helps you start a conversation with your loved one about finances. Know how much money is available to cover future costs and if they have any insurance policies.
- Ask their official permission to share relevant information. Ask the patient if they are okay to share their personal information with the hospital staff and insurance companies. If they can still make decisions, they can sign papers or make calls to access you (or another trusted party). You also need to include banks and other essential utilities since you could likely end up paying the bills.
- Address any legal issues. Taking care of an elderly with Alzheimer's can have legal intricacies. As much as possible, acquire a Power of Attorney that indicates who the patient's guardian will be. That's because the guardian will be the sole responsible for the well-being and assets of a senior family member.
- Be aware of abuse. Please make sure there is nothing questionable in their finances. There aren't any unpaid bills, unusual visitors, or mysterious bank withdrawals. You also need to be cautious if your loved one says that they've met someone kind or helpful to them.
Your loved one may become more dependent as time goes by. It would be best if you stay flexible with your routines and expectations.
Let's say that they wanted to wear the same outfit every day. Rather than winding up frustrated, you can get them identical-looking outfits. If bathing is often met with resistance, then you might want to do it less often.
A person who has Alzheimer's can be frustrated when easy tasks become challenging. To help it, here are some tips:
- Create a routine. Tasks like bathing or going for medical appointments are more manageable when the person is more alert and refreshed.
- Involve them. Let them do things as much as they can with little resistance. Let's say they can dress on their own if you lay out their clothes in order.
- Give simple instructions. Stick with clear, one-step instructions.
- Offer choices. Provide choices, but don't overwhelm them. Ask if they would like a hot or cold drink. Or would they want to go to the park or watch a movie?
- Minimize distractions. Reducing distractions allows them to focus better on the task at hand.
Taking care of a family member who has Alzheimer's can be challenging. But you should remember how they contributed to the family and the community when they were sharp. Hence, it is fitting that we provide them the care that they need.
Sure, it can be challenging. But you need to find the balance between attending to a patient and your personal responsibilities. Plus, you should be wary of the legalities that this may entail.
Thus, you must have a wellness plan to ensure that your elderly loved one is well-taken care of. Doing so also allows you to manage expectations and reduces your frustration.