If you have a loved one who is struggling with Alzheimer's disease, you need to educate yourself on how this disease affects the brain, as well as the lives of the patient and family members. Alzheimer's is a progressive disease which affects cognitive abilities and also causes problems with memory and changes in behavior. Whether you are a caregiver or you are helping your loved one adjust to life in an Alzheimer's care facility, there are several ways to help everyone involved face the challenges. Start by following a few dos and don'ts to help you and your loved one cope:
1. DO Understand the Stages of Alzheimer's and How It Affects the Patient
If this is a new experience you are faced with, you need to understand how this disease progresses and what each of the stages actually mean. Early stage Alzheimer's produces mild symptoms and changes in behavior or personality. For instance, during the onset or early stages, the patient may become forgetful or fail to remember important dates, places, or a person's name. In some cases, everyday tasks such as managing a budget or organizing a shopping list may be forgotten. This would be the first stage.
The middle stage of Alzheimer's is often referred to as the moderate stage. During this time, the individual often becomes disoriented, and problems with memory and concentration become more heightened and frequent. Daily tasks such as dressing and bathing may become difficult, requiring assistance. The person with moderate Alzheimer's may not recognize the face of a friend or confuse the names of family members. He or she may also have trouble distinguishing day from night and sometimes begin to wander off on their own. At this stage. It is important for the individual to be under constant care.
During the advanced or late-stage of Alzheimer's, the person often becomes helpless and needs assistance with even the smallest task, such as getting out of bed, or sitting in a chair. The individual will most likely not recognize loved ones and friends. He or she may also have difficulty swallowing and eating. Most patients in the late stage of the disease are best placed in a nursing facility where they can receive round the clock care.
2. DON'T Exclude Your Loved One From Decision-Making
During the early stage of Alzheimer's, and provided your loved one is still able to make sound decisions, give him or her a choice. Making all the choices for your loved one may make him or her feel helpless and disconnected. For instance, offer choices in what clothes to wear, what foods to eat and what activities to participate in. Whether your loved on is still living at home or at a nursing facility, you need to demonstrate that you are not controlling every aspect of his or her life.
3. DO Make Your Home Safe If Your Loved One Returns For a Visit
A person struggling with Alzheimer's may have difficulty with balance and be more prone to accidents from falls. Reduce the risk of falling by getting rid of area rugs or obstructions in the house. Also, because Alzheimer's patients often become confused, it's a good idea to keep chemicals and medications under lock and key. You might also want to reduce the temperature of your water heater to prevent scalding from the faucet or bathtub. Additionally, do not leave hazardous items such as sharp knives or matches within reach.
4. DON'T Neglect to Plan For the Future
Although it may be difficult to think of end-of-life care for your loved one, you need to prepare yourself for the inevitable and plan accordingly. The day may come when your loved one reaches that stage and will need round-the-clock care. If you are unable to provide that caretaker responsibility yourself, consider placing your loved one in a hospice or nursing facility that is specialized in late-stage Alzheimer's care, such as Alta Ridge Communities. If you need encouragement and support, consider speaking with a grief counselor or experienced hospice staff members. Ask for reading material on dealing with this stage of Alzheimer's so you will be well prepared for what you may need to do.