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10 Best Ways To Support A Loved One With Alzheimer’s Disease

10 Best Ways To Support A Loved One With Alzheimer’s Disease

Last year, we met a man wandering our street who asked us how to get home but could not remember where he lived. He said he had come to see his brother who lived on our street but could not remember the address. Fortunately, he had a sheet of paper with a contact number and we were able to put him in the car and return him safely to his home. This was a classic case of a person suffering from mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease.

The first things an Alzheimer’s patient has to deal with are the problems with memory and making decisions. The patient will start feeling despondent. One of the first things to reassure them about is that you will always be there and that they are going to have bad days and good days. The patient and you will probably notice some or all of the following problems:

  • Repeating questions
  • Problems with paying bills and handling money
  • Delay in completing normal routine tasks
  • Personality changes where the patient may be withdrawn or extremely irritable
  • Difficulty in expressing thoughts
  • Misplacing items.

When moderate Alzheimer’s is present, the patient becomes even more confused and memory loss begins to interfere with daily functioning. Getting dressed becomes difficult and they may suffer from delusions and hallucinations. When severe Alzheimer’s sets in, the patient will be unable to communicate, will not be able to function at all and will spend most of the time in bed. They will need constant care and attention.

If you really want to understand what an Alzheimer’s patient is going through, an excellent book is The Best Friends Approach to Alzheimer’s Care by Virginia Bell and David Troxel. This book makes us aware of the patient’s feelings of being embarrassed, frightened and lonely as they experience a loss of memory and self-care skills. One of the most important pieces of advice in this book is that we should never correct a patient who tells us that a certain relative, who is long deceased, has been around recently. They also recommend imagining what it must be like not to be able to do any of our favorite activities anymore.

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Here are 10 things to keep in mind if you have a loved one with Alzheimer’s or if you are a caregiver.

1. Medication can help to maintain mental health

There are several drugs now approved by the FDA which can help a patient by delaying the disease’s progress. They will not work for everybody and they may only work for a time. The important thing is to help your loved one get an early diagnosis and treatment which may include these drugs.

As a supportive caregiver you can help in the following ways in managing the medication process:

  • Keep a list of the meds and dosages in a safe place at the patient’s home and also a copy for your own purse or wallet
  • Learn the times they should be given. You may have to call the patient to remind them if they are inclined to forget
  • Note any side effects and what progress has been made and report them to the doctor
  • Buy a pillbox with different compartments and a built-in alarm reminder.
  • Shared calendars can be a great help

As the disease progresses, you may have to make sure that someone is present when the meds are taken.

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2. Helping a patient to deal with memory loss

The patient will be upset at having to repeat questions and not take in the answers. While they can remember the long distant past perfectly, their memory of recent faces and events is at best patchy, at worst a complete blank. Their main worry at this stage is probably one of abandonment. You, as a caregiver and/or family member have to balance their desire to be independent with living safely. Here are some practical, easy ways you can help them cope:

  • Use post its at strategic points in the house to remind them to do certain things, taking keys, turning off the gas and so on. You can also get a personal voice prompt recording which kicks in as they approach the door.
  • Calendar clocks which show the month, date and time clearly are useful.
  • Color coded devices can help the patient find misplaced items.
  • Sensors built in to set off alarms in case of flooding or gas leaks.

3. Get help and support

Reach out to the many associations which will help you to support and assist a loved one. Find your local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association if you live in the USA. They have a wealth of information and will help you with workshops and other resources. They also have a 24 hour helpline. You are not alone. They will also help you to look after yourself so that you do not suffer from burnout. In the USA, there are 15 million caregivers looking after people with this disease. If you live in another country, there may be similar organizations. It is well worthwhile reaching out.

4. Help them feel valued

The Alzheimer’s patient usually feels that their self worth is at risk and they want to retain their sense of identity and above all they want to be respected. Here are some of the ways you can help to prevent these feelings from being eroded:

  • Do not be too fussy about household routines and faulty memory when there are no safety issues
  • Dedicate time to chatting and avoid memory problems- let them go
  • Spend time with them doing things they still enjoy
  • Always include them in conversations
  • Always be affectionate and reassuring – avoid criticism at all costs.

 5. Coming to terms with skills erosion

These issues will inevitably come up as decreased cognitive abilities may mean that a patient will no longer be able to drive. Watch the video below on how a supportive conversation will help this man to come to terms with not being able to drive anymore. In the moving video, his wife hits the nail on the head when she states: “A real man tries to understand change tries to act in a responsible way.” Acknowledging the difficulties that giving up driving can involve demands empathy. Also, talking about possible solutions and reinforcing your affection are other ways to approach what can be a very thorny subject.

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6. How to help a patient to dress

Dealing with this can be easier if you try to encourage the patient to make choices. You can also help by making the most frequently worn clothes easily accessible. Make sure that buttons are undone and that zips are open. If they have problems in remembering how to dress, encourage them by giving them step by step instructions, one at a time. You can get the full dressing cheat sheet here.

7. Help with vision/spatial problems

One of the consequences of this disease is that the patient may have difficulty with vision and also interpreting colors and distance. Once the regular eye check ups have been dome and you are helping the patient wear the right glasses, it is important to look at the home environment so that they can negotiate it safely, without fear of falling. An occupational therapist is the best person to do this. The following changes may be recommended:

  • Suitable handrails at critical points in the house
  • Try using contrasting colors when setting the table. A white plate on a red tablecloth is much more easily recognizable than plates and cloths of the same color.
  • Use similar color contrasts for toilet seats so they are more noticeable
  • Improve lighting all over the house to reduce the risk of falls
  • Keep wall and floor designs plain. If they contain any geometrical patterns, these may be seen as obstacles by the patient.

8. Adjust to dramatic changes

As the disease goes through its various stages, there may be challenges which will seem overwhelming at first. But the rewards are also considerable as you will be able to strengthen the bonds through compassion and caring. In addition, there will be new relationships as you avail of support groups. Accept all the help you can get whether it is cleaning, shopping or transporting. You are going to need a network of people to help, so rally round friends and family.

9. Plan ahead

Further down the road, you have to make plans for 24/7 care. That may mean making decisions fairly early on. Most patients know that this is a distinct possibility and they want to be able to decide with their loved ones, sooner rather than later. Being involved in such a decision is important for them.

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You will have to assess whether your finances can permit extra care and help. Look at all the options. There is a series of videos here which will help you to deal with various issues.

10. Learn how to reflect

Learning acceptance of each new loss of memory or erosion of skills is very hard to bear for both caregivers and patients. Caregivers need to reflect on what the new reality means and make the necessary adjustments. There are still many positive things that can come out of this experience:

  • Be grateful for what your loved one can still achieve
  • Organize activities in which you can both still participate and enjoy
  • Keep a diary and write down your sad thoughts, your successes and your unfailing love
  • Make mindfulness and relaxation an integral part of your daily routine

I once watched a YouTube video of a man talking about his wife and her steady loss of cognitive function and abilities as she went through the various stages of Alzheimer’s. One phrase has stuck in my mind. He said: ‘Today is going to be her best ever.’ Living one day at a time and savoring any joyful moments is probably one of the best things a caregiver and a patient can do.

“Dementia is often regarded as an embarrassing condition that should be hushed up and not spoken about. But I feel passionately that more needs to be done to raise awareness, which is why I became an ambassador for the Alzheimer’s Society.” – Kevin Whately

More by this author

Robert Locke

Author of Ziger the Tiger Stories, a health enthusiast specializing in relationships, life improvement and mental health.

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Last Updated on December 3, 2019

10 Life Lessons You’d Better Learn Early on in Life

10 Life Lessons You’d Better Learn Early on in Life

There are so many lessons I wish I had learned while I was young enough to appreciate and apply them. The thing with wisdom, and often with life lessons in general, is that they’re learned in retrospect, long after we needed them. The good news is that other people can benefit from our experiences and the lessons we’ve learned.

Here’re 10 important life lessons you should learn early on:

1. Money Will Never Solve Your Real Problems

Money is a tool; a commodity that buys you necessities and some nice “wants,” but it is not the panacea to your problems.

There are a great many people who are living on very little, yet have wonderfully full and happy lives… and there are sadly a great many people are living on quite a lot, yet have terribly miserable lives.

Money can buy a nice home, a great car, fabulous shoes, even a bit of security and some creature comforts, but it cannot fix a broken relationship, or cure loneliness, and the “happiness” it brings is only fleeting and not the kind that really and truly matters. Happiness is not for sale. If you’re expecting the “stuff” you can buy to “make it better,” you will never be happy.

2. Pace Yourself

Often when we’re young, just beginning our adult journey we feel as though we have to do everything at once. We need to decide everything, plan out our lives, experience everything, get to the top, find true love, figure out our life’s purpose, and do it all at the same time.

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Slow down—don’t rush into things. Let your life unfold. Wait a bit to see where it takes you, and take time to weigh your options. Enjoy every bite of food, take time to look around you, let the other person finish their side of the conversation. Allow yourself time to think, to mull a bit.

Taking action is critical. Working towards your goals and making plans for the future is commendable and often very useful, but rushing full-speed ahead towards anything is a one-way ticket to burnout and a good way to miss your life as it passes you by.

3. You Can’t Please Everyone

“I don’t know the secret to success, but the secret to failure is trying to please everyone” – Bill Cosby.

You don’t need everyone to agree with you or even like you. It’s human nature to want to belong, to be liked, respected and valued, but not at the expense of your integrity and happiness. Other people cannot give you the validation you seek. That has to come from inside.

Speak up, stick to your guns, assert yourself when you need to, demand respect, stay true to your values.

4. Your Health Is Your Most Valuable Asset

Health is an invaluable treasure—always appreciate, nurture, and protect it. Good health is often wasted on the young before they have a chance to appreciate it for what it’s worth.

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We tend to take our good health for granted, because it’s just there. We don’t have to worry about it, so we don’t really pay attention to it… until we have to.

Heart disease, bone density, stroke, many cancers—the list of many largely preventable diseases is long, so take care of your health now, or you’ll regret it later on.

5. You Don’t Always Get What You Want

“Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.” – John Lennon

No matter how carefully you plan and how hard you work, sometimes things just don’t work out the way you want them to… and that’s okay.

We have all of these expectations; predetermined visions of what our “ideal” life will look like, but all too often, that’s not the reality of the life we end up with. Sometimes our dreams fail and sometimes we just change our minds mid-course. Sometimes we have to flop to find the right course and sometimes we just have to try a few things before we find the right direction.

6. It’s Not All About You

You are not the epicenter of the universe. It’s very difficult to view the world from a perspective outside of your own, since we are always so focused on what’s happening in our own lives. What do I have to do today? What will this mean for me, for my career, for my life? What do I want?

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It’s normal to be intensely aware of everything that’s going on in your own life, but you need to pay as much attention to what’s happening around you, and how things affect other people in the world as you do to your own life. It helps to keep things in perspective.

7. There’s No Shame in Not Knowing

No one has it all figured out. Nobody has all the answers. There’s no shame in saying “I don’t know.” Pretending to be perfect doesn’t make you perfect. It just makes you neurotic to keep up the pretense of manufactured perfection.

We have this idea that there is some kind of stigma or shame in admitting our limitations or uncertainly, but we can’t possibly know everything. We all make mistakes and mess up occasionally. We learn as we go, that’s life.

Besides—nobody likes a know-it-all. A little vulnerability makes you human and oh so much more relatable.

8. Love Is More Than a Feeling; It’s a Choice

That burst of initial exhilaration, pulse quickening love and passion does not last long. But that doesn’t mean long-lasting love is not possible.

Love is not just a feeling; it’s a choice that you make every day. We have to choose to let annoyances pass, to forgive, to be kind, to respect, to support, to be faithful.

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Relationships take work. Sometimes it’s easy and sometimes it’s incredibly hard. It is up to us to choose how we want to act, think and speak in a relationship.

9. Perspective Is a Beautiful Thing

Typically, when we’re worried or upset, it’s because we’ve lost perspective. Everything that is happening in our lives seems so big, so important, so do or die, but in the grand picture, this single hiccup often means next to nothing.

The fight we’re having, the job we didn’t get, the real or imagined slight, the unexpected need to shift course, the thing we wanted, but didn’t get. Most of it won’t matter 20, 30, 40 years from now. It’s hard to see long term when all you know is short term, but unless it’s life-threatening, let it go, and move on.

10. Don’t Take Anything for Granted

We often don’t appreciate what we have until it’s gone: that includes your health, your family and friends, your job, the money you have or think you will have tomorrow.

When you’re young, it seems that your parents will always be there, but they won’t. You think you have plenty of time to get back in touch with your old friends or spend time with new ones, but you don’t. You have the money to spend, or you think you’ll have it next month, but you might not.

Nothing in your life is not guaranteed to be there tomorrow, including those you love.

This is a hard life lesson to learn, but it may be the most important of all: Life can change in an instant. Make sure you appreciate what you have, while you still have it.

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Featured photo credit: Ben Eaton via unsplash.com

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