Taking care of a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease can be emotionally and physically taxing, especially if you are the primary caregiver. Here are six tips to handle common caregiver challenges.
1. Educate yourself
Hearing that a loved one has Alzheimer’s can be devastating. To better cope with the diagnosis, it’s important you understand the disease and disease process. Research Alzheimer’s online, talk to your loved one’s doctor and reach out to organizations like the Alzheimer’s Association for help and support.
2. Keep your home safe
When caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s, you need to take certain precautions at home to keep them safe. Here are some tips:
- Secure all locks, so they can’t wander outside and get lost.
- Put child-proof latches on cabinets and doors.
- Properly store and label medications and keep them hidden.
- To prevent trips and falls, remove all clutter from floors, secure rugs and keep your home well lit.
3. Communicate with kindness
Remember, as the disease progresses, your loved one may lose his or her train of thought, make up new words to describe what they are thinking and repeat questions. While this can be aggravating, it’s important that you try to be patient.
- Offer reassurance: It’s easy to get frustrated when you have trouble communicating, but this can make things worse. Tell your loved one that it’s okay and keep working through the conversation to get to the bottom of what they are trying to say.
- Don’t criticize or debate: Instead of questioning their message, listen and try your best to understand. You may be able to guess words or phrases they are having a hard time remembering and help them complete their thought.
- Make sure it’s quiet: Distracting noises can lead to even more confusion. Be sure the area is free of loud music or television shows.
4. Plan for challenges
As your loved one’s Alzheimer’s progresses, you may be forced to handle certain uncomfortable or frightening situations.
- Wandering: Forgetfulness may lead to frequent spells of confusion when it comes to their whereabouts. Make sure your loved one wears an identification bracelet at all times, so if they wander off you can be reached. If possible, install an announcing system on your doors so you can hear when they open. Lastly, keep a recent photo of your loved one on you, in case they wander off and you need help finding them.
- Delusions and hallucinations: Delusions and hallucinations may occur in people with Alzheimer’s. During a spell, comfort them, turn off any disturbances such as music or television and take a walk to distract them from the episode.
- Incontinence: People with Alzheimer’s may have difficulty getting to the bathroom in time – and going through the motions once they get there. To prevent bathroom blunders, dress your loved one in easy-to-remove clothing, watch their body language to predict when they might need to go and create a bathroom-break schedule to avoid accidents.
5. Make outings successful
Doctor visits and grocery store trips are inevitable. Plan outings during their best time of day (it will most often occur in the morning). Recruit another person to come with you to help, if you can.
6. Take care of yourself
The most important thing you can do to help your loved one with Alzheimer’s is to take care of yourself. You won’t be helpful if you get rundown, sick or emotionally drained. Don’t neglect your own health needs. See your doctor for regular checkups, eat right and make sure you get regular exercise. If you’re having trouble coping, seek support from a doctor or psychologist.