Providing compassionate and supportive Alzheimer’s care for a family member who suffers from progressive dementia can be exhausting, frustrating, and depressing. Watching a parent or grandparent who once had a distinct and vibrant personality deteriorate into a confused and unresponsive individual lacking an identity is one of life’s most difficult challenges.
Being an Alzheimer’s caregiver requires coping with many changes and profound emotions in a healthy manner to avoid feelings of anxiety, anger, guilt and despair. Understanding what to expect as the dementia patient’s health declines may also help prepare the caregiver for the devastating effects of the stages of Alzheimer’s disease on the person’s mind and body.
As the disease gradually overwhelms the patient and eventually robs them of their ability to think about, remember and recognize familiar people and everyday tasks, caregivers will need to tap into coping mechanisms made effective by a total awareness of the disease.
Anger and Resentment
For someone diagnosed with Alzheimer’s life expectancy from the time of the diagnosis can be anywhere from three to as much as 20 to 25 years, depending on the physical health of the patient. Providing Alzheimer’s care for a family member who may need up to 10 hours of assistance each day can produce powerful feelings of resentment in caregivers.
Guilt, confusion and feelings of being taken for granted are emotions that frequently affect sons, daughters or grandchildren who are trying to do the right thing by keeping a loved one at home and out of a nursing home or institution.
Aggravating these feelings of resentment are the actions of the dementia patient, who often seems to act ungrateful, irritable and “contrary” deliberately. Although most caregivers understand that it is the disease causing a loved one to react negatively to everything that being done for them, the constant stress of dealing with someone who, for the most part, may appear to know what is happening to them can create uncertainty and impatience. These feelings often occur in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease when the patient still has many moments of lucidity and is still able to perform some tasks, albeit slowly.
Isolation and Embarrassment
Because Alzheimer’s patients can behave loudly, irrationally and in socially unacceptable ways, many families try to avoid difficult situations by reducing the amount of social activities in which the patient used to participate. However, research into the effects of isolation on Alzheimer’s dementia patients found loss of social contacts to correlate directly with faster than average declines in cognitive and physical health.
In response to studies showing that patients in all dementia stages benefit greatly from Alzheimer’s care involving regular social interactions as well as participating in various art, music and dance therapies, many nursing homes are now implementing “person-centered” therapy techniques that involve treating dementia patients with patience, compassion, respect and dignity regardless of their cognitive condition.
Keep everything as familiar and structured as possible for the dementia patient. Mealtimes, baths, sleep schedules and daily hygiene routines performed at the same time everyday helps the person feel more secure and less disoriented.
Do not let the patient sit in front of a television for more than 30 minutes at a time. Let them pick out two or three shows they like to watch daily but fill the remainder of the day with creative activities, socializing and doing things outside such as light gardening or walking.
Try not to feel like you are doing the patient a favor by overcompensating for their disabilities. Even if the patient cannot tie his or her shoes anymore, he may still be able to fold clean towels or brush the dog. When formulating an Alzheimer’s care plan, try to integrate simple activities the patient can do that make them feel like they are contributing to the household
Keep communication simple but not condescending. Give the patient time to answer questions before repeating the question. Encourage non-verbal communication such as pointing or gesturing if the patient has difficult remembering names for objects. Do not assume you know what the patient needs because you feel impatient about waiting for an answer. Always remember that someone with Alzheimer’s is at the mercy of a brain that is no longer able to function normally and cannot control how they act or think.
If a family member with Alzheimer’s starts to exhibit middle of the night wandering tendencies, you might think about installing locks that are inaccessible to the patient. Placing deadbolts that are too high for the patient to reach may prevent them from leaving the home. Security motion detectors that set off a loud alarm whenever the door to which they are attached is opened can alert others to the fact that the patient may be leaving the home.
Additional Alzheimer’s care tips include placing adhesive strips under rugs to prevent slippage, removing any decorative or plastic vegetables and fruits from view that the patient may misconstrue as being real and keeping your refrigerator cleaned out (dementia patients may not realize that food has spoiled and eat it). In addition, you could also eliminate any “ground clutter” in the home, such as magazine racks, floor lamps or beanbag chairs that might be hazardous to an ambulatory patient.