By Eirish Sison
With no proven cures or ways to prevent Alzheimer's disease, a debilitating form of dementia affecting 5.4 million Americans, caregivers are the true unsung heroes of this disease. Fifteen million Alzheimer's caregivers contribute seventeen billion hours of unpaid care every year. If you're responsible for taking care of someone who has Alzheimer's, understand that it requires a massive, around-the-clock commitment, and the burden will only increase with time. Here are nine tips to help you manage this responsibility and take care of yourself as well.
Communication can be a frustrating process for both the person with Alzheimer's disease and the caregiver. People with Alzheimer's often struggle with finding the right words to use and have difficulty expressing thoughts. They may also have trouble understanding what you are saying to them. Make sure you have the person's full attention and maintain eye contact during conversations. Allow them to say whatever they want without interruption, and pay attention to the emotions they are expressing if their words don't make sense. Get the person's attention by saying their name, then speak slowly and clearly. Ask one question at a time and be patient when waiting for a response. Remember to maintain a positive attitude during the conversation.
Planning and scheduling activities for a person with Alzheimer's can be tough, but it's important for a number of reasons. Activities keep the person physically and mentally active, and will hopefully add structure and meaning to their life. Activities should be scheduled at the same time every day to help establish a routine. Some ideas for activities include taking a walk, listening to music, playing cards and playing with pets; Alzheimer's patients respond well to pets. Participate in the chosen activity with the person and always be encouraging. Don't force the person to do any activity they heavily object to.
Regular, nutritious meals will improve the mood and energy levels of a person with Alzheimer's disease, but serving these meals can be a struggle. There are ways, however, to make mealtime less stressful for both of you. First, like planning activities, set specific times for breakfast, lunch and dinner. People with Alzheimer's get confused very easily, so keep the table setting as simple as possible by removing any distracting items and only using silverware that is necessary for the meal being served. Prevent messes by using plate guards and silverware with large, specially designed handles. Serve drinks in no-spill, plastic cups. The person may dig right in, so make sure that food and beverages aren't too hot. To prevent the person from getting overwhelmed, serve only one or two food items at a time and consider easy-to-eat finger foods.
Bathing a person with Alzheimer's disease is often the most difficult and awkward aspect of patient care. The person may become alarmed and agitated by the process. If they act out, remain calm. Don't take their verbal or physical outbursts to heart. A complete bath can be a hassle, and may not be necessary every day, so schedule the task three or four specific times during the week. Prep the bathroom by removing any objects that the person could slip on. If necessary, install grab bars and/or a tub seat. Soaps, shampoos and bath equipment can be hazardous obstacles, so organize them outside the tub. Figure out if the person prefers baths or showers, then make sure the water temperature isn't too hot. If the person does not want to undress, start the bath or shower with clothes on, as they may want to undress once clothing gets wet. Encourage the person to do as much as they can on their own, but don't hesitate to assist wherever necessary. Have the person sit down while drying off and keep a fresh set of clothes ready.