Caring for someone with Alzheimer’s can be a difficult journey. It can be tragic to watch your loved one gradually lose their ability to do that which was once simple. This can have a profound impact on the caregiver, and it may feel isolating. However, you are not alone. It is estimated that 15 million people in the U.S. are currently caring for someone with some form of dementia. There is currently no cure for dementia, but compassionate caregiving can go a long way towards improving your loved one’s quality of life. This is what makes caregiving worth it because you can truly make a difference.
Make a Routine
Routine is helpful for people with Alzheimer’s because it is less confusing. They are better able to predict what is going to happen because they do more or less the same thing on a daily basis. Make sure to schedule appointments when your loved one is most likely to be alert and rested. That being said, there is still room for spontaneity in a person with Alzheimer’s life; some of the best times in life are ones you never planned for. Just try to fit these moments within their usual routine so they don’t become agitated.
Keep in mind that your loved one can’t help their condition, so you can’t expect them to change. It is you who will have to adapt. Be flexible in your expectations of your loved one and meet them where they are. For example, if your loved one begins to wear the same outfit every day, you might buy them several identical outfits to rotate through. Not fighting them to diversify their wardrobe will go a long way towards helping your relationship and reducing the mental impact of caregiving on your sense of wellbeing.
Don’t Argue With Them
Your loved one might use the wrong word for something or be unable to remember someone’s name. The facts simply aren’t that important, and correcting them in these instances is only going to make them feel more confused or ashamed. Keep in mind that Alzheimer’s can also make people very paranoid, so your loved one might feel suspicious of you and may even accuse you of some wrongdoing. Becoming defensive or disagreeing with them will only serve to confuse and upset your loved one. Try to be patient and don’t take it personally when your loved one doesn’t get it right.
When you live someone with Alzheimer’s, you want to make sure that they are as safe as possible in your home. Because Alzheimer’s impairs judgment and critical thinking skills, it can increase their risk of injury. You can help them reduce this risk by making certain small changes to your home. You can prevent falls by making sure you reduce tripping hazards; remove extension cords, rugs, and clutter from pathways. In addition, make sure you lock up any dangerous items, such as medication, alcohol, guns, hazardous tools, and toxic chemicals. You might adjust the water heater to ensure the temperature of the water doesn’t get too hot, as it is common for Alzheimer’s patients to inadvertently burn themselves. Finally, remember your fire safety and keep lighters and matches out of reach. Keep your smoke detectors in working condition and a fire hydrant on hand.
Let Them Make Choices
One of the greatest frustrations your loved one will face is the loss of their independence. Over time, it will be more and more difficult for them to do things that once were second nature to them. One of the best things you can do for someone with Alzheimer’s is giving them some sense of agency. An easy way to do this is to let them make choices. They don’t need to be major decisions, but something as simple as giving them two options for breakfast and letting them choose which to eat can help them feel more autonomous.
As more and more research comes out on Alzheimer’s disease, the importance of staying active has become more obvious. Exercise has an incredibly positive impact on cognition in general, and recent studies suggest that it can be particularly beneficial to those who are at greater risk of Alzheimer’s or who have already been diagnosed. You may be able to help your loved one slow the progression of the disease through exercise. You might find a water aerobics class they can join, or simply make a point to take a walk with them every day. Try to keep your loved one moving to help them better manage the symptoms of Alzheimer’s.
Keep Them Engaged
In addition, it’s very important for people with Alzheimer’s to stay engaged with their community and interests. It’s common for people with dementia to become more and more isolated, which can lead to depression and in turn, accelerate the progression of the disease. Being mentally and socially stimulated is helpful for people with Alzheimer’s because it has certain protective properties against mental health problems.
Take Care of Yourself
The expression goes, “You cannot pour from an empty cup.” The opportunity to care for others is a blessing, but we cannot do this without also caring for ourselves. Make sure you are making time for yourself during this time, prioritizing self-care such as eating well, exercising, and practicing mindfulness. It can be helpful to invest in a creative outlet during this time, so if you have any inclination towards painting, writing, music, or some other endeavor, try to prioritize it. Finally, make sure you have a community around you. We learn more and more about the importance of social support for our mental health, and this applies not just to your loved one with Alzheimer’s, but you as well.
Caregiving can be an incredibly rewarding experience, but you don’t have to take it all on alone. You might consider hiring a home health aide to help you provide a higher level of care to your loved one with Alzheimer’s and the reduce your risk of burnout. If you’re interested in learning more about what we may be able to do to care for your loved one, contact us today.