Good appearance can go a long way in making a person with Alzheimer's feel happy and better about themselves. The person may panic if their closet or drawers are crowded with stuff, so remove old or unnecessary clothing and organize the remaining items. Lay out outfit components in the order that they should be put on. Give your loved one verbal dressing instructions, but if they are unable to dress themselves, assist them with putting the clothes on. Always be encouraging. Let them wear whatever they want, even if the clothes are mismatched.
People with Alzheimer's forget how to perform simple tasks, and hygienic duties like shaving and brushing teeth are no exception. Normal razors are not recommended because of the high risk for cuts. Use an electric razor and make sure to clean the hair out after every couple of uses. Taking the person to see a barber or stylist is a great idea because it's an exciting activity, and temporarily alleviates you of caretaking duties. Make sure the person brushes their teeth regularly — it is important for health and hygiene — but you will likely need to walk them through the process or even brush their teeth yourself. If possible, schedule visits to the dentist, who can offer further tips. For all aspects of grooming, it's helpful to perform the tasks yourself right next to the person so they can mimic your actions.
As Alzheimer's disease advances into its later stages, the amount of daily care that's necessary will increase and become more challenging. Always treat the person with compassion, regardless of the severity of symptoms. If a person with late-stage Alzheimer's is bedridden or wheelchair-bound, their skin will bruise, tear and become infected very easily. Keep the person's skin dry to avoid infection, and change their bed position every few hours to allow skin to breathe. Keep joints and bony areas padded. They may not be able to control the urge to urinate or defecate, so monitor when and how often they go to the bathroom and maintain a strict meal schedule. People with Alzheimer's often develop swallowing issues. Make sure foods are easily chewable and drinks are easy to swallow. Avoid nasty infections by cleaning their teeth and mouth regularly, and quickly treat cuts with antibiotic ointment. Remember, if treatment becomes too difficult or time-consuming, 24-hour care facilities are always an option.
It is extremely important to maintain a safe home environment for someone living with Alzheimer's. Make sure there are no cords or loose objects on the ground that can be tripped over. Hide away or lock up potentially dangerous items like knives, toxic cleaning products and prescription drugs. Store dangerous appliances like lawnmowers, saws and power tools outside in a secure area, like a shed. Keep the person inside and away from outdoor hazards by placing a dead bolt high up on the front and back doors of your house. Install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and have a fire extinguisher on hand. Make sure that all rugs are firmly fastened down, and remove any throw rugs that they could slip on. If the person has vision problems, make sure all rooms are well lit and not overly cluttered. Closely monitor the person's weight and health. If any issues arise, don't hesitate to seek medical help. Twenty-four hour medical emergency response services for people with Alzheimer's are available and recommended.
Taking care of someone with Alzheimer's is physically and emotionally draining. Managing every aspect of someone's life can be grueling, and doesn't leave the caregiver much time for themselves. Familial caregivers also feel frustration and sadness over the fact that their loved one is no longer the person they once were. It helps to be well-informed — even an expert — on the disease. That way, you won't be rattled by unexpected behavior or situations. Great online resources, like MedHelp, provide comprehensive information on all aspects of Alzheimer's. You can also seek advice and support from doctors and social workers. Don't feel guilty about taking breaks during the day to just relax and be alone. Regular interaction with family members in person or over the phone will help curb feelings of isolation, and if they live nearby, ask them to pitch in. Even though you're devoting so much energy to caring for someone else, don't forget to take care of yourself. Exercise, eat right, schedule doctor's appointments and make time to do things you enjoy like seeing friends or going to the movies. You will be better suited to deal with the emotional and physical stress of caring for someone with Alzheimer's. If you feel the need to talk to trained counselors and others in your situation, support groups across the country and hotlines are offered through the Alzheimer's Association. Also, check out MedHelp's Alzheimer's community and expert forum.
Published: April 12, 2011
Eirish Sison is a San Francisco-based health and science writer.