It’s never easy to watch a loved one experience unwanted health changes. When the cause of the changes is Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia-related illness, it can be particularly difficult. Living with Alzheimer’s requires that caregivers make a few changes of their own, particularly in their attitudes and in their understanding of the disease. Here are a few points to consider.
Understanding Alzheimer’s Disease
The condition known as “Alzheimer’s disease” likely has been present in humans nearly since the start of life as we know it. Today it gets its name from German psychiatrist Alois Alzheimer who, in 1901, first identified the specific symptomatology in a 50-year-old female patient. Other similar cases began being described in the medical literature of the time, and soon “Alzheimer’s disease” became the accepted medical name. A neurodegenerative disease, a classic early symptom is short-term memory challenges, with other symptoms presenting as the condition progresses. The effects of Alzheimer’s disease include but aren’t limited to:
- Challenges with self-care
- Mood swings
- Trouble understanding spoken or written language
- Forgetting names and faces
- Changes in behavior It’s important for those caring for a family member with Alzheimer’s disease to understand that these changes are not under the control of the affected individual.
Communicating with Alzheimer’s Family Member
When a loved one has Alzheimer's disease, it can affect everyone in the family, especially children and grandchildren. It's important to understand that diseases of the brain cause a person's mind to function in unusual ways. But remembering that the person with the condition is still the person – just with some new traits – will help family members remain compassionate and effective in helping the individual move into a new and often unsettling world.
As a caregiver to your loved one with Alzheimer’s, you can help family members and friends understand how to interact with the person in a more effective way that won’t cause them stress or add to their confusion. Here are some tips for communicating with a family member with Alzheimer’s:
- Help family members and friends understand what your loved one can still do and how much he or she can understand.
- Encourage visitors only during times of the day when the person with Alzheimer’s is typically at their best.
- Be respectful, remain calm, and speak in a quiet voice.
- Try not to correct the person with Alzheimer's if there's a mistake in something they said or if they forget something. Instead try and respond to the feelings communicated or talk about a different topic.
- If the person gets angry, or does not remember you, do not take it personally as they’re only acting out of confusion.
Alzheimer's Support for Family and Caregivers
While your loved one may be dealing with the symptoms and lifestyle changes that come with the disease, the affects of Alzheimer's don't stop there. As a caregiver or family member of someone with Alzheimer's, you will also be dealing with the sadness that comes from watching someone you love lose their memories of the details of their life.
- It’s important to take time for yourself as caring for a loved one can quickly become draining. While taking time off can bring on feelings of guilt, remember to take some time for yourself. Whether for a fun or relaxing activity, you deserve it and the time away will help recover your energy and allow you to provide the best care possible for your loved one.
- Being a caretaker for a loved one with Alzheimer's can cause feelings of loss and isolation. Joining a support group for Alzheimer’s caregivers can help you connect with others in similar situations who are dealing with the same feelings of sadness, guilt, and loss. Having a supportive community can help ease the burden and pain of the situation.
- Don’t take on the burden alone. If possible get the whole family on board with the care plan, whether it's simply helping clean the house, being in charge of bills, or running errands. Likewise, when someone offers to help, let them. • Watching a loved one cope with the challenges that come from Alzheimer’s disease can be emotional. However, it’s important to celebrate what is possible for them. Try to structure activities based on their capabilities; you and your loved one will find enjoyment in doing so. By appreciating what your loved one is able to do, you can find enjoyment on even the toughest days.
The Progression of Caring for a Loved One with Alzheimer’s
In the early stages of a loved one’s illness, many families marshal their forces and arrange to provide care in a home setting. Initially, the care required is fairly simple and may include giving helpful reminders, re-orienting the person to his or her surroundings, assisting with hygiene, and answering the same or similar question several times.
As the disease advances, a widening scope of symptoms will present themselves, often causing frustration and "burn-out" on the part of family members. To a significant degree, these reactions can be tempered if caregivers take the time to educate themselves about the disease and its usual symptoms. Patience also is critical, similar to what's needed when dealing with children who require varying amounts of time to learn certain principles.
Of course, in Alzheimer’s disease, many of those “principles” will never be fully learned by the loved one, making the need for patience and understanding all the more important.
In most situations, the time will come when caregiving family members must accept that they can no longer adequately look after their loved one. This is not admitting defeat. Rather it’s acknowledging the fact that the human brain is capable of changes that we can no longer understand, or come up with ways to best serve.
Senior Memory Care at Living Branches
At Living Branches retirement communities, we offer compassionate, professional memory care programs for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. If you’d like to know more about a safe, welcoming home as a transition for your loved one, contact us today or give a call us at (215) 368-4438. We will be happy to answer your questions and determine the best community and memory care plan that aligns with your loved one’s specific needs.