The diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease is a scary one,however, in the earlier stages, there are some things that can be done to make life a little easier for the patient and the caregiver.
The diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, or more accurately “Alzheimer’s type dementia” is a scary one, it is the most common of the “dementing illnesses”. Dementia can be defined as the loss of intellectual functions like thinking, remembering, and reasoning, severe enough to interfere with daily living. As the dementia progresses, it is increasingly difficult to care for a loved one with this diagnosis. However, in the earlier stages, there are some things that can be done to make life a little easier.
Alzheimer’s is often broken down into three stages; Early, Mid and Late. During the Early-stage, you might notice less sparkle, initiative and drive in your loved one. There will be slower reactions difficulty making decisions, word finding problems and short term memory loss.
During this Early-stage, you should be aware that often times, your loved one will be aware that something is “wrong”. He or she will often try to “cover up” by placing blame on others or on “stress” or being “overworked”. It’s at this time that the family needs to be available for reassurance and supervision.
The second, or “Mid-stage” brings about certain behavioral changes like wandering, disorientation, judgment problems and lack of affection. Here, the family or caregiver is susceptible to feelings of guilt and isolation and can become the target of the loved ones frustration or anger.
Third or “Late-stage” Alzheimer’s leads to the eventual shutting down of mind and body. The caregiver often feels burned out, is grieving the loss and may decide to seek placement in a nursing care facility.
While your loved one is at home, there are ways to make life easier on everyone. Inform close family members about the diagnosis. Explain what will be happening to your loved one, perhaps offering written information to them. This will help them understand what is happening and allow them to take a role in protecting and preserving the health and dignity of your loved one. Also, consider contacting the Alzheimer’s association, the AARP, and your insurance company to find out what types of support are available for caregivers.
Safety is the first and most important issue. It’s a good idea to alert close neighbors to be on the lookout for any unusual behavior. Because of memory loss, your loved one might end up in the wrong yard or house or even wander off. Neighbors can help if they are aware of the problem. Also, if he or she will allow it, place name tags or labels in clothing so that if he or she should become lost they can be identified. Place a small bell at the tops of your doors that lead to the outside to alert you if your loved one has decided to leave the house. You don’t want to keep them prisoner and you should allow them as much freedom as is safe for them, but you will also need to be aware of what they are doing.
In the home, the Alzheimer’s Association recommends that the areas be brightly illuminated and caregivers should try to keep the noise level at bay as loud noises can be confusing and disorienting. Other things that can cause excess confusion are shiny floors, carpets with large patterns or dark borders and checkerboard patterns. These things can cause visual perception problems. If at all possible, the furniture should be color contrasted with the floors and walls so they stand out visually.
Consistency is key in keeping your loved one comfortable. Try to engage in the same activities he or she enjoyed before diagnosis. For example, if he was an avid golfer, try playing mini golf in the back yard once a day or even going to a driving range during a slow time (check with staff to see when the least busy time is). If she was a quilter, she may not be able to complete a quilt anymore, but perhaps an activity like folding or cutting material would be comforting.
Daily activities that we take for granted, like bathing, grooming and eating, can become puzzling for your loved one. During these times, assist with gentle reminders of what they were doing. Remember to preserve his or her dignity as much as possible. Allow them to do what they can for themselves and be patient. During meals, try to provide items that don’t take a lot of preparation. Simple things without bones, seed or pits are best. Keep instructions short and try to make the atmosphere as pleasant and free of distractions as much as possible.
Being a Caregiver to someone who has Alzheimer’s disease is a challenging and difficult task. Remember to ask for help, take time off and get the support you need from other family members and friends and consider joining a caregiver support group.