How to care for a loved one with Alzheimer's disease
A loved one being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease can pull the rug from under your feet.
Here are some tips to help you in your role as a caregiver.
Alzheimer's disease is a chronic neurodegenerative disease that destroys brain cells, causing thinking ability and memory to deteriorate over time. Alzheimer's disease is not a normal part of aging, and is irreversible.
It alters and disrupts the following spheres:
- perception of reality
- coordination and mobility
- sensory perception
- reasoning and judgment
There is no cure, but efforts are focused on slowing the progression of the disease. Active research continues and remains the only current hope for patients and their families.
Deeper understanding for better support
Understanding the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease will help you better cope with the different changes in behaviour you see in your loved one:
· Agitation and anxiety
· Changes in mood, such as aggression
· Dementia, disorientation and difficulty understanding others (confusion)
· Delusions and hallucinations
· Wandering, losing one's way, and difficulty distinguishing day from night
Stages of Alzheimer's disease
Alzheimer's disease is progressive, meaning that there are stages where changes in the person with the disease are observed.
Early-stage Alzheimer's (mild)
This is the stage where the person with Alzheimer's disease and those around them must learn to cope with the diagnosis.
Aside from memory lapses, such as forgetting familiar words, your loved one will still show signs of independence.
This is the best time to plan for the future and respect his or her wishes. Prepare a mandate of incapacity and financial powers of attorney and put their affairs in order. You should also plan his or her estate.
Middle-stage Alzheimer's (moderate)
Memory and cognitive abilities continue to deteriorate. Loss of autonomy disrupts daily tasks, which are more difficult to accomplish,
This is where your role as a caregiver is essential.
If your loved one is still living at home, changes will need to be made to their environment to make it safe.
You may also want to consider moving them to an adapted care facility.
Register your loved one with MedicAlert® Safely Home®, which will make it easier to find them if they get lost and return them home safe and sound.
Late-stage Alzheimer's (severe)
Constant care is required, as at this stage the person can no longer perform such tasks as eating, no longer has mobility, and is unable to communicate.
End of life
Round-the-clock palliative care is required given the severity of the condition.
Adapt to the person, not the other way around
Your loved one needs compassionate care to feel respected, calm, safe and dignified.
A person-centred approach helps them to better adapt to the changing stages of Alzheimer's disease.
This can be expressed in the following ways:
· ask the person's opinion instead of imposing your way of doing things
· avoid correcting the person when their memory fails, or if they use a wrong word
Despite the difficulties that your role entails, be caring and empathetic toward your loved one. No one asked for this diagnosis.
Your loved one still has feelings. They need companionship and be able to maintain their sense of place in the family. Continue to provide entertaining activities and social interaction.
Your perception of the situation also makes a difference. See the glass as half full, with laughter and positivity as your allies.
During periods of agitation
The goal is to distract your loved one. To keep their hands busy, give them a stress ball, play cards or a board game, or have them fold laundry.
You can also distract them with soothing music or evoke happy memories by looking at pictures.
When wandering at night
Suggest physical activities such as walking, biking and swimming.
Physical activity helps channel energy and promotes better sleeping habits.
A network and time for yourself
Being a caregiver can be exhausting, to the point of experiencing compassion fatigue.
This feeling of grief is called ambiguous loss and grief, where you mourn the loss of a loved one still alive, but not really themselves anymore.
Consider building a support network to talk and express your needs in order to get the help you require on a daily basis. Avoid isolating yourself.
Adopt and maintain healthy lifestyle habits to give yourself the energy to care for your loved one. Make sure you get enough sleep, maintain a balanced diet and incorporate physical activity into your routine—even if you have a busy schedule.
If you feel overwhelmed, ask for help. Your loved ones, health professionals and Alzheimer Society support groups are all there to listen and help you find solutions.
Alzheimer's disease in numbers
In Canada, 500,000 people suffer from a cognitive disease. This number will increase to 937,000 by 2031.
The concept of a caregiver is very real as one in five people in this country have cared for a loved one with a neurocognitive disorder.
Cognitive diseases also have a cost of $10.4 billion per year. It is projected to grow to $16.6 billion in 10 years.