Tips for the caregivers of people with dementia and Alzheimer’s
Providing care to a person with dementia or Alzheimer’s can be quite challenging.
First, we should understand the difference. Dementia and Alzheimer’s are not one and the same. While the words are often used interchangeably, we should understand that Alzheimer’s is a disease and is only one of many forms of dementia. Other forms of dementia include vascular, dementia with Lewy body, frontotemporal dementia, normal pressure hydrocephalus and a few others. (Drs. Feler and Miller spoke of many of these at the Eagle County Senior Fair this past year)
Regardless of the type of dementia one has, being a caregiver or family member of a person with such an issue can be difficult. Locally, we have a few organizations that can provide assistance and resources. Eagle County Healthy Aging (Pat Nolan and Carly Rietmann at 970-328-8840) and Eagle Valley Senior Life (Ted Martin at 970-977-0188) are two great resources.
The Alheimer’s Association website, http://www.alz.org, is a great resource.
Whether you are a friend, family member or caregiver, you must have patience and understanding to effectively assist a person with dementia or Alzheimer’s. In addition, in order to maintain the highest level of functioning possible, a caregiver must see the care recipient’s daily schedule in a new light. Here are some tips for those in a caregiver role:
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Stress can worsen the symptoms of most illnesses, including Alzheimer’s disease. Caregivers should develop plans to protect the care recipient from these potential sources of stress:
A change in routine, caregiver or surroundings.
Too much stimulation.
Establish a routine
Keep the care recipient’s routine stable so that he or she can respond automatically. Look at the following:
Make a schedule for the care. Make sure to include recreational activities that the care recipient enjoys.
Establish bedtime rituals. The same activity prior to going to bed each night helps promote relaxation and better sleep. (This works for you, too.)
Stick to the schedule you create as closely as possible.
Post copies of the schedule in a log book and give copies of this routine to others who assist in their care.
Be specific. For example, “The care recipient enjoys coffee and toast immediately after getting up in the morning, around 8 a.m.”
Developing coping strategies is by far one of the most productive tools to overcome challenges posed by daily life and tough hurdles. Accepting that it is now more difficult than it once had been to complete basic daily tasks does not have to be overwhelming nor does it have to derail someone from living a high-quality life.
Making lists and using calendars that have plenty of room for writing notes are two great tools for aiding someone who is dealing with cognitive issues. (We often use large erasable white boards to display a weekly calendar) Planning ahead and developing strategies that are not too aggressive are also tools that can aid greatly.
Practice reality orientation
Always remember to orient the care recipient often during the day.
For example, “Good morning, Mom. It is Tuesday and a beautiful spring morning. Let’s have some breakfast.”
Simplify the surroundings
• Instead of going to busy areas such as malls, which are noisy and crowded, go to a park.
• Eventually, you may need to use illustrations to guide the care recipient in her actions, like using the picture of a toilet on the bathroom door.
• Morning is generally the best and most energetic time for people with cognitive concerns, so plan activities during these time periods. Keep in mind the need for your care recipient to take breaks and re-orient themselves.
• Also note that the ability to concentrate for long periods may become impaired, so schedule longer breaks with less of the activity, especially as the disease progresses.
Don’t expect too much
• Realize that each Alzheimer’s ordementia care recipient has their own unique set of limitations. Expecting too much of the care recipient will create stress which leads to frustration. Instead, offer help.
By utilizing some of the above mentioned support tools, caregivers may better prepare themselves to take control of situation. It is important to develop and establish individualized coping strategies that are as effective as possible.
Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle, Garfield, and Routt counties. His contact information is http://www.visiting angels.com/comtns or 970-328-5526.