WHEN CARING FOR SOMEONE WITH ALZHEIMER'S...

People with Alzheimer’s disease have special needs and offer special challenges to those who care for them. Alzheimer’s Disease often forces a family to restructure their lives. While each person is different, the following list offers some tips to make everyday living a little more manageable.

Home Safety

As the person’s symptoms worsen, even common household items and furnishings can become dangerous.

    • Get rid of the “clutter” around the house, such as piles of papers, throw rugs etc. Also, furniture should be simple and clear pathways should be established.
    • Put locks or install child-proof latches on any cabinets that contain potentially harmful items such as guns, liquor, matches, household cleaners, medicines, knives, etc.
    • Install handrails throughout the house, especially around the bathtub and toilet, since coordination and balance may deteriorate.
    • If the person you are caring for wanders, put locks on doors leading outside. Also, place an identification tag in the person’s wallet or purse or on a necklace in case he or she does wander off and become lost.
  • Remove the door locks that are operated from the inside– as in bedrooms and bathrooms– so that the person will not lock himself or herself in.

Eating

Eating sometimes can become difficult for a person with Alzheimer’s disease. He or she might forget to eat, or forget that he or she has already eaten. For instance, sometimes people forget what to eat and consume a bag of candy for lunch.

    • Make eating easier by having ready-to-eat food (sandwiches, soup) or by enlisting the help of a meal-delivery service, like Meals on Wheels.
    • If the person you are caring for constantly eats, have some low-calorie foods around such as carrots, celery, crackers, or butter-less popcorn. Then if he or she wants to eat, these low-calorie, healthy snacks can be given without much hassle.
  • If the person you are caring for does not eat, do the opposite and provide high-calorie snacks such as a milkshake, cheese and crackers, or a diet-supplement shake.

Personal Hygiene

Even something that we take for granted, such as personal hygiene, may become a chore for a person with Alzheimer’s disease.

    • Allow the person to continue his or her personal hygiene routine as much as possible. For example, if he or she brushes his or her teeth before bathing, encourage the continuation of this process. Routines can make the person with Alzheimer’s disease more secure less confused about the process.
    • If showering or bathing becomes too difficult, then sponge baths will work just as well. Also, the person does not need to be bathed daily; three to four times a week is fine.
    • Bathing is a private activity. Allow the person as independence as possible–however, do not leave him or her unattended. A shower chair, available through medical supply companies, may allow the person to bathe privately while keeping them out of danger.
  • To facilitate dressing, lay out the person’s clothes in the order of how they go on. Use comfortable, easily manageable clothing such as sweatpants and button-less tops so that the person may be able to dress independently.

Sleep

Alzheimer’s disease often throws off a person’s “internal clock” thus causing restlessness at night. There are certain things you can do to help make their nights calmer. Do what you can to help maintain a regular schedule and reduce frustration when such confusion occurs.

    • Scheduling is often the key to producing positive results in the person’s behavior. Schedule a time for naps and a time for bed and stick with the routine.
    • To help calm the person down before bedtime, do a sedate activity such as reading, doing a puzzle, listen to calming music. Even getting the person into his or her bed clothes may help the calming process.
  • Make sure the person has gone to the bathroom before going to bed.

Advice for Caregivers

Caring for someone who has Alzheimer’s disease or another illness involving dementia can be very difficult, time-consuming, and stressful. Here are some more things a caregiver can do to help the person with Alzheimer’s disease while also reducing the substantial burden that comes with caregiving:

    • Stay Informed – Knowledge equals power. The more you know about Alzheimer’s disease or any other dementing disease, the better you can prepare yourself to deal with problems that may arise.
    • Share concerns with the person – A person who is mildly to moderately impaired can assist in his/her own care. Memory aides and other strategies can be created by the person with dementia and the caregiver together.
    • Solve problems one at a time – A multitude of problems may occur that may seem insurmountable at the time. Work on one specific problem at a time — you do not have to solve every problem all at once.
    • Use your imagination – One of the keys to handling this disease is your ability to adapt. If something can’t be done one way, try another. For example, if the person only uses his or her fingers for eating, do not keep fighting; just serve as many finger foods as possible!
    • Establish an environment that encourages freedom and activity within limits Try to create a stable, balanced schedule for meals, medication, etc. but also encourage activities that the patient can handle such as taking a walk or visiting an old friend. Remember, the person with AD is not the only one whose needs must be taken into consideration. You as a caregiver have needs and desires that must also be met. First, try and find some time for yourself. Even though this suggestion may seem like an impossibility, find some time during the week where you can have someone else watch the patient — be it a relative, friend, or neighbor — and do something for yourself.
  • Avoid social isolation – Keep up contacts with friends and relatives. Its easy to get burned out when it seems like you have no one to turn to. Another way to establish contacts is by joining the Alzheimer’s Association or other such support groups. Talking with other families who share many of the very same problems can be reassuring as it helps you know you are not alone in your round-the-clock struggles.