Alzheimer’s disease is one of the most devastating illnesses there is, not only for the person who suffers from it, but for the people who care for him. Watching the condition rob the person of his memories, ability to even do the simplest tasks on his own, and eventually, any sense of self, is heart-wrenching. As the disease progresses, your loved one’s needs become extensive, placing a huge emotional and physical burden on the caregiver. Being tasked with caregiving where this disease is concerned can feel downright overwhelming at times. Here are some helpful tips for some of the more challenging aspects of Alzheimer’s caregiving.
Eating can be a huge challenge once Alzheimer’s disease begins to progress. As people age, they naturally lose their appetite anyway, and the condition exacerbates the associated problems such as malnutrition and low body weight. It may take some trial and error to find the strategies that work best for you and your loved one. Here are just a few worth considering. Minimize any distractions during meal time—no television,etc.. Do not place extraneous items on the table which may confuse the person, such as bowls of plastic fruit or other unnecessary adornments. Stick to only the food and utensils needed to eat it. Make it easy to tell the differences between the table and the plate, and the plate and the food as this disease affects spatial and visual abilities. Stick to solid contrasting colors, and avoid anything with patterns. Too many items at once may cause overwhelm—serve one or two foods at a time. Be flexible with preferences—this disease often causes constant shifts in likes and dislikes. Last, but not least, allow plenty of time for meals so you do not feel the need to rush the person. This will increase anxiety and only make things worse, not just for your loved one, but you too.
When it comes to tasks that are most stressful for a caregiver, many would rank bathing at the top of the list. It can be a scary, confusing time for someone with Alzheimer’s disease. Depending on how advanced the condition is, many have a sense of their privacy being violated and it is upsetting. If the disease is more advanced, he may no longer have any idea why this invasive, uncomfortable activity is eve necessary. First and foremost, schedule bathing at a time of the day your loved one is most calm and agreeable; for many, this is earlier in the day, rather than in the evening, where confusion and other symptoms often get more intense. No matter what time you decide on, do your best to stick to that time. Alzheimer’s patients respond well to routine. A sense of choice may make the process easier—ask whether she wants a bath or shower, and now or in 20 minutes? If she appears to feel vulnerable, cover her with a blanket while she undresses. Allow your loved one to do as much as she can on her own, with you providing guidance.
Dealing with Illusions and Hallucinations
This is one of the more challenging aspects of dealing with Alzheimer’s patients. They either see things that are not there at all (hallucinations) or they see one thing and think it is something else (illusions.) At first thought, it may seem tempting to try and reason with the person, but this will get you nowhere fast. Their mind is ‘’broken’’ and any sense of logic and reasoning is severely compromised. Going along with the illusions and hallucinations is usually the best way to keep the person calm and avoiding an argument you have no chance of winning. If your father thinks the neighbor’s house is on fire, tell him you called the fire department and they will come and take care of it. If what the person is seeing is upsetting and may lead to him doing something dangerous, act immediately and provide reassurance that everything is okay. Always work to redirect attention , whether it is moving to a different room, putting on the television or starting a conversation on a new topic.
Kelli Cooper, writing for continuing care community Lakewood Manor, is a freelance writer who blogs about a variety of topics related to elder care.