For When Your Loved One Has Alzheimer's Disease
Alzheimer’s disease is complex and difficult to cope with, affecting not only the five million Americans living with the disease, but those that care about them as well. If someone you love has recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, you may be at a loss for what to do next. Both your lives can change in even the early stages of the disease, but guidance is available to support your loved one to the best of your ability.
Remember: Taking care of yourself is a vital part of taking care of your loved one. Caregiving can be physically and emotionally exhausting. Giving yourself time to rest, relax and recover will allow you to maintain your own health as well as help your loved one.
Prepare for Care
Alzheimer’s can be incredibly difficult for the family and friends of those suffering from the disease. Talk to your loved one’s physician about what to expect as the disease progresses and recommendations on care. Find out how you can help in a way that is healthy for you, too. It can be hard, but you’ll want to begin to get in the habit of detaching — be prepared for mood swings and try not to take behavior too personally.
Your loved one’s Alzheimer’s may get worse no matter how much time you invest in visiting and playing memory games. Understanding the disease can help you cope and provide care without blaming yourself. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if the situation escalates beyond your control; isolating yourself can be dangerous for both you and your loved one.
Ultimately, try not to let Alzheimer’s define your lives. Caregiving will be a team effort from your family and medical professionals. And remember — there will be good days, too.
Safeguard the Home
After an Alzheimer’s diagnosis or when you notice the symptoms getting worse, you may want to check your loved one’s home for safety hazards. Keep in mind his or her capabilities as you consider safety locks in the kitchen and other places that house potential dangers like knives, matches and chemicals. Installing a shower chair or grab bars and treating particularly slippery surfaces is recommended.
Try to keep the clutter to a minimum and install night-lights. Keep a list of emergency contact numbers easily accessible. As you make adjustments for someone with Alzheimer’s, be sure to communicate what you’re doing as gently as possible so he or she feels in control and not lost at home.
Keep Activities on the Schedule
Routine activities are an important part of life with Alzheimer’s. A sense of structure and familiarity will be comforting, and consistent times for meals, bathing and visitors will help orient your loved one struggling with memory lapses.
Encourage those with Alzheimer’s to participate in daily activities as much as possible, and plan excursions suited to their interests and abilities. Stimulate different senses with a variety of activities like singing, telling stories, swimming, painting and gardening. From a walk in the park to sitting in the backyard, any time spent outdoors can be therapeutic.
Connecting with your loved one as Alzheimer’s progresses can be one of the biggest struggles both of you face. People with the disease may begin to have difficulty finding the right words and increasingly rely on hand gestures. Your loved one may be easily confused or prone to inappropriate outbursts, and — especially tough for you — he or she may forget personal or important things.
Do your best to speak in short, simple statements with one clear direction at a time. Address your loved one by name and ask yes or no questions when possible. Try not to question his or her memory specifically or talk as if he or she isn’t in the room. Sarcasm, irony, slang and baby talk can hurt or confuse the person you care about. You may find yourself frustrated or losing patience; if you think you’ll lose your temper, take a break and ask for help.
Plan Your Next Steps
Your care can be invaluable during the early stages of Alzheimer’s, but the disease may progress beyond your capability to provide support. Just as you should feel comfortable asking family and friends for help in the beginning, be prepared to consider long-term caregiving and decision-making. At some point, you’ll need to establish who will be making caregiving, medical and financial decisions as the disease progresses. You may want to do this early when your loved one can lead the discussion.
The importance of taking care of yourself during this time cannot be overstated. Similarly, if you choose to seek the help of outside or professional caregivers, remember that personal time is an essential component of their ability to do their best work, too. All caregivers — you and those who help you — deserve care too.
Interested in hearing more from Northwestern Medicine? Sign up for the Healthy Tips E‑Newsletter for everything from health and wellness ideas to patient breakthroughs to academic and medical advancements.