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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  • Personality changes where the patient may be withdrawn or extremely irritable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 April 11, 2019

How to Improve Communication Skills for Workplace Success

How to Improve Communication Skills for Workplace Success

Possessing strong communication skills will help you in every phase of your life. This is especially true in the workplace.

I have personally worked with several leaders who were masters of communication. A few were wonderful speakers who could tell a great story and get everyone in the room engaged. Those of us in attendance would walk away feeling inspired and eager to help with what came next. Others were very skilled at sharing a clear direction and job expectations.

I knew exactly what was expected of me and how to achieve my goals. This was the foundation of an energized and vibrant role I was in. What I have found is strong communication skills are incredibly helpful and sometimes critical in how well we perform at work.

Here we will take a look at how to improve communication skills for workplace success.

How Communication Skills Help Your Success

Strong communication skills pave the way for success in many ways. Let’s look at a few of the big ones.

Create a Positive Experience

Here are two examples of how well developed communication skills helps create a positive experience:

When I first moved to the city I now live in, I began a job search. Prior to my first live interview, I was told an address to go to. Upon arriving at the address provided, I drove around and around attempting to find the location. After 15 minutes of circling and looking for the address, I finally grabbed a parking spot and set out on foot.

What I discovered was the address was actually down an alley and only had the number over the door. No sign for the actual company. The person that gave me those very unclear directions provided a bad experience for me.

Had they communicated the directions to get there in a clear manner, my experience would have been much better. Instead the entire experience started off poorly and colored the entire meeting.

As a recruiter, I frequently provide potential candidates with information about a job I’m speaking to them about. In order to do this, I also provide a picture of the overall company, the group they might be joining, and how their role fits in and impacts the entire company.

Time and time again I have been told by candidates that I have provided the clearest picture of a company and role they have ever heard. They have a positive experience when I clearly communicate to them. Even when the position does not work out for them, often times they will want to stay in touch with me due to the open communication and beneficial experience they had during the interviewing process.

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Strong communication skills will provide a positive experience in virtually any interaction you have with someone.

Help Leadership Skills

It’s certainly a skill all its own to be able to lead others.

Being a mentor and guiding others towards success is a major hallmark of great leaders. Another characteristic of effective leaders is the ability to communicate clearly.

As I referenced above, having a leader who can plainly articulate the company’s mission and direction goes a really long way towards being the Captain of the boat that others want to follow. It’s like saying “here’s our destination and this is how we are going to get there” in a way that everyone can get on board with.

Another critical component of everyone helping to sail the boat in the right direction is knowing what your portion is all about. How are you helping the boat move towards its destination in the manner than is consistent with the leaders’ vision?

If you have a boss or a manager that can show you what it takes for not only you to be successful, but also how your performance helps the company’s success then you’ve got a winner. A boss with superior communication skills.

Build Better Teams

Most of us work in teams of some sort or another. During the course of my career, I have led teams up to 80 and also been an individual contributor.

In my individual contributor roles, I have been part of a larger team. Even if you are in business for yourself, you have to interact with others in one manner or another.

If you have strong communication skills, it helps to build better teams. This is true whether you are in an IT department with 100 other fellow programmers or if you own your own business and have customers or vendors you communicate with.

When you showcase your robust ability to communicate well with others while interacting with them, you are building a better team.

Now let’s jump in to how to improve communication skills to help you pave the way for your workplace success.

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How to Improve Communication Skills for Workplace Success

There are many tips, tricks, and techniques to improve communication skills. I don’t want to overwhelm you with too much information, so let’s focus on the things that will provide the biggest return on your time investment.

Most of these tips will be fairly easy to become aware of but will take time and effort to implement. So let’s go!

1. Listen

Ever heard the saying you have two ears and one mouth for a reason? If you haven’t, then here’s the reason:

Being a good listener is half the equation to being a good communicator.

People who have the ability to really listen to someone can then actually answer questions in a meaningful way. If you don’t make the effort to actively listen, then you are really doing yourself and the other person a disservice in the communication department.

Know that person who is chomping at the bit to open his or her mouth the second you stop talking? Don’t be that person. They haven’t listened to at least 1/2 of what you’ve said. Therefore the words that spill out of their mouth are going to be about 1/2 relevant to what you just said.

Listen to someone completely and be comfortable with short periods of silence. Work on your listening skills first and foremost.

2. Know Your Audience

Knowing your audience is another critical component to having strong communication skills. The way you interact with your manager should be different than how you interact with your kids. This isn’t to say you need to be a different person with everyone you interact with. Far from it.

Here is a good way to think about it:

Imagine using your the same choice of words and body language you use with your spouse while interacting with your boss. That puts things in a graphic light!

You want to ensure you are using the type of communication most relevant to your audience.

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3. Minimize

I have lunch with a business associate about 3 times a year. We’ve been talking for several years now about putting a business deal together.

He is one of those people that simply overwhelms others with a lot of words. Sometimes when I ask him a question, I get buried beneath such an avalanche of words that I’m more confused than when I asked the question. Needless to say this is most likely a large portion of why we never put the deal together.

Don’t be like my lunch business associate. The goal of talking to or communicating with someone is to share actual information. The goal is not to confuse someone, it’s to provide clarity in many cases.

State what needs to be stated as succinctly as possible. That doesn’t mean you can’t have some pleasant conversation about the weather too.

The point is to not create such an onslaught of words and information that the other person walks away more confused than when they started.

4. Over Communicate

So this probably sounds completely counter intuitive to what I just wrote about minimizing your communication. It seems like it might be but it’s not.

What I mean by over communicating is ensuring that the other person understands the important parts of what you are sharing with them. This can be done simply yet effectively. Here’s a good example:

Most companies have open enrollment for benefits for the employees in the fall. The company I work for has open enrollment from November 1 to 15. The benefits department will send out a communication to all employees around October 1st, letting them know open enrollment is right around the corner and any major changes that year. There’s also a phone number and email for people to contact them with any questions.

Two weeks later, we all get a follow up email with basically the same information. We get a 3rd communication the week before open enrollment and another one 1 day before it starts.

Finally we get 2 emails during enrollment reminding us when open enrollment ends.

There’s minimal information, it’s more of a reminder. This is effective over communication.

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5. Body Language

The final critical component to how to improve communication skills for workplace success is body language. This is something most of us have heard about before but, a reminder is probably a good idea.

When I am in a meeting with someone I am comfortable with, I tend to kind of slouch down in my chair and cross my arms. When I catch myself doing this, I sit up straight and uncross my arms. I remember that crossing arms can many times be interpreted as a sign of disagreement or conflict.

In general, the best rule of thumb is to work towards having open body language whenever possible at work. This means relaxing your posture, not crossing your arms, and looking people in the eye when speaking with them.

When you are speaking in front of others, stand up straight and speak in a clear voice. This will convey confidence in your words.

Conclusion

Possessing strong communication skills will help you in many facets of your life and most certainly in the workplace.

Good communication helps create better teams, positive experiences with those we interact with, and are critical for leadership.

There are numerous tactics and techniques to be used to improve communication skills. Here we’ve reviewed how to improve communication skills for workplace success.

Now go communicate your way to success.

More Resources About Effective Communication

Featured photo credit: HIVAN ARVIZU via unsplash.com

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