After a loved one is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, you might wish for a manual to help you navigate through the journey and tell you exactly what to do. The problem is: there is no such manual. For decades, caregivers have had to figure out this role on their own. They’ve both succeeded and failed. But the good news is those who have both succeeded and failed haven’t kept their secrets from other caregivers.
We’ve gathered tips and tricks to help caregivers during their care for an Alzheimer’s patient. There is no doubt that your life will be altered as the caregiver, but you don’t have to do it alone! Let’s dig right in and find out how to make everyone’s life just a little bit easier all around!
First thing is first: there are warning signs and symptoms to be on the lookout for in any loved one you frequently visit with or talk to. The most common warning sign for almost anyone (caregivers and patients alike) is the inability to remember certain things. Forgetfulness is no longer momentarily losing your keys in the house. Instead, it’s forgetting that you were going to the grocery store for milk and leaving the parking lot confused and frustrated before you even left the car.
Behavior may also be another warning sign. Those suffering from Alzheimer’s will sometimes experience mood swings, poor hygiene, confusion, and even aggression. As the disease progresses, these behaviors can/will become worse. If these behaviors are unlike your loved one, speak to a doctor immediately to determine the next steps for diagnosis and treatment.
What some people fail to recognize is that Alzheimer’s is a degenerative disease. It is progressive; sometimes it can be aggressive and other times not. However, doctors have found that the average survival time from diagnosis is 3 to 9 years. That doesn’t mean that everyone who is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s will die in 3 to 9 years from the disease as some patients have survived for up to 20 years!
This is a part of the caregiver’s role that one should be prepared for as wills, funeral arrangements, and power of attorney situations should be dealt with before the disease becomes too aggressive. If a caregiver is not given permission by the patient to take care of things for them, life for everyone involved becomes much harder.
We tend to equate privileges with younger children. For example, teenagers who get their license drive your car because it is a privilege, not a right. Adults who suffer from Alzheimer’s will not see their driving as a danger to the outside world and will not go down without a fight if you take away their “right” to drive.
However, no matter the age, driving is a privilege. Once the ability to perform the task of driving becomes lessened or non-existent, the privilege should be revoked. Caregivers are often tasked with taking away this right, which can make their life much harder day in and day out as they explain the same things each and every day.
Getting Enough Exercise
Caregivers should be extra aware of keeping loved ones with Alzheimer’s up and moving as much as possible. Moving one’s body gets everything else moving and grooving, so it is always encouraged to help your loved one get out there and do something active.
Of course, taking a jog around the block isn’t an option any longer (most likely), but there are other options! Some examples of easy exercise for you and your loved one to do together is walking around the block, planting new flowers or vegetables, going to a museum, or going for a light swim. Getting the blood flowing in the body can be great for cardiovascular reasons but also helps in the anxiety department.
Alzheimer’s patients can become anxious very quickly when faced with a “new” and “unfamiliar” situation. However, science has found that movement through light exercise on a regular basis can help Alzheimer’s patients decrease their likelihood of experiencing anxiety during those “new” and “unfamiliar” situations.
As a caregiver, one of the biggest and most important jobs you will have is to administer and track all medication. Patients with Alzheimer’s may have multiple medications to take daily. It is likely that their ability to remember if they took their medication or not and what they took will weaken. In that case, caregivers should step in and take over the medication distribution. This can keep an Alzheimer’s patient from taking too much of something or taking something at the wrong time.
Alzheimer’s is not a disease that takes over a person’s mind in one day. In fact, because it is a progressive disease, many patients can still perform everyday tasks for quite some time after the original diagnosis.
Caregivers can help loved ones remember tasks that they still can do by leaving notes around the house in inconspicuous locations. If the Alzheimer’s patient can still load and unload the dishwasher, leave a note on the dishwasher for them to load it with the dirty dishes in the sink after dinner. This will remind them that they still can do things on their own and encourage them to continue to be as independent as possible!
It’s no secret that there is a “witching hour” for Alzheimer’s patients, much like there is for infants. In about 20% of patients who have Alzheimer’s, a condition known as Sundown Syndrome may occur. This occurs when the sun begins to go down for the night, and the patients experience feelings of anxiety, agitation, or confusion. Unfortunately, doctors and researchers have been unable to find a direct cause for Sundown Syndrome, but they do believe that it is caused by disorientation from the change in the lighting as well as shadows that may start to appear in the room or outside.
Caregivers can reduce the effects of Sundown Syndrome by having their loved one watch their favorite show during sunset, avoid going out of the home while the sun sets, and providing light inside the home through overhead lights, nightlights, or lamps. This will keep the patient comfortable and acclimated to their surroundings as much as possible during this particular time of day.
When Your Loved One Doesn’t Know You
As much as everyone expects their loved one to eventually forget who they are when it comes to Alzheimer’s, the actual moment when the patient doesn’t know a loved one is heart-wrenching. As a caregiver, you will face many days (more than not) where your loved one will not know who you are. It could be helpful to give the patient a photo album with pictures of each family member and their names underneath to help jog the patient’s memory daily.
Remember to encourage them as much as possible and avoid getting frustrated. To keep them as calm as possible, remind them that it is their Alzheimer’s that is causing the lack of recollection and that it is not their fault!
Caregivers have a very important job that oftentimes goes unnoticed. However, caring for someone with Alzheimer’s is rewarding and humbling at the same time. Just remember that the loved one you know and love is still in there and needs you to hold them closer than ever during their new phase in life!