It was hard to watch her struggle as she cared for him. He hit. He fought. He groped for words. Alzheimer’s disease takes its toll on an entire family but the most on the individual who serves as a caretaker.
The National Institute on Aging says that one of the hardest struggles for a caretaker is facing the difficult behavior of a person they love. Daily activities like dressing, bathing and eating can become more and more difficult for both the patient and his or her caregiver. Various tips can help, but the trick for coping appears to be having a plan to get through each day.
According to the Mayo Clinic, in the early stages of the disease, the patient might still have the ability to carry out the daily tasks associated with independent living. However, his or her abilities will start to diminish as the disease progresses through each stage. To help caregivers cope, the site offers several practical tips.
It’s normal for an Alzheimer’s patient to become frustrated, agitated or even aggressive when easy tasks become hard or impossible. To lower the frustration level, it’s important to plan events or activities wisely. The most difficult tasks such as taking a bath should be scheduled during the time of day when the patient is most agreeable. Setting up a predictable daily routine also minimizes frustration.
It’s also important to let the loved one help with tasks to the extent that’s possible. For example, some patients are able to dress themselves if a caregiver lays out their clothes first.
Limiting choices also reduces frustration. It’s more helpful to ask which of two foods the patient prefers than to give an open-ended choice. Frustration tends to occur when people are in a hurry. An important tip for anyone providing dementia caregiving is to allow extra time for completing even simple tasks.
An Alzheimer’s patient’s ability to function and cope declines steadily and can vary from one day to the next. Caregivers need to remain flexible and adapt any routines to take that into account. Sometimes this involves relaxing standards, such as switching from bathing every day to sponge baths between tub baths.
Make the environment safe
Alzheimer’s impairs a patient’s judgment. Caregivers therefore need to decrease the risk of injury by removing anything that might cause one to trip or fall and installing handrails where needed. Cabinets storing medicine, alcohol, firearms, toxic cleaning products and sharp utensils or tools should remain locked.
It’s also important to remove any plug-in appliances from the bathroom to reduce the chance of shock and to make sure the temperature of the water heater doesn’t exceed 120 degrees F. The home should contain a first-aid kit, a fire extinguisher and functional smoke alarms.
Personalize the care
The progress of each Alzheimer’s patient through the stages of the disease is unique. Caregivers need to vary their techniques accordingly. Patience and flexibility are paramount in learning to communicate effectively. Caregivers should avoid using patronizing language. A gentle, calm tone of voice with simple words and short sentences is essential. It’s also important to call the patient by name and make sure you have his or her attention before speaking.
Coping with Holidays
The National Institute on Aging suggests that finding the balance between rest and activity can be a huge problem for caregivers during the holidays. Present difficulties in taking care of an Alzheimer’s patient contrast sharply with happy memories from the past.
One alternative is to adapt family traditions and include the patient to the extent possible. Having realistic expectations about what can be accomplished is important. At large gatherings, an Alzheimer’s patient should have a place to be alone and rest when necessary. And the holidays are the perfect time for caregivers to try to enjoy themselves and to ask friends or family members to provide a little respite care.
National Institute on Aging site
Mayo Clinic site