Do you have a close relative that has recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or one of the many other related dementia conditions? If you have decided to take on the responsibility of taking care of them, you are to be commended. However, you must understand what this entails.
As Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease that gradually destroys the cells in the brain and affects behaviors, thoughts, and memory, the symptoms will get worse and the level of care you need to provide will increase. You need to be patient and flexible. As there is no cure though and only treatments for certain symptoms of dementia, it is the care you give that can make all the difference between them having a good quality of life and a bad one.
As we’ve already said, people who take on the challenge are to be commended. What you need to understand though is, just want the challenge entails.
Challenges of Caring For Someone with Alzheimer’s
As you can imagine with looking after someone with a degenerative disease like Alzheimer’s that there’s no cure for, there will be various milestones you will reach which can be hard to deal with. Your loved one’s skills and memory will slowly diminish. Their behavior will change, sometimes in ways that can break your heart.
These changes can leave you both feeling more sad, angry, and confused than ever before. One of the saddest aspects of the degenerative nature of this disease is that as their needs increase and the responsibilities you have become more challenging, their ability to show any kind of appreciation for the hard work you are putting in to look after them will decrease. At times it will feel like a very thankless task.
Although it is definitely a trying experience to go through, filled with challenges you never imagined you’d have to deal with, for many it is also a deeply satisfying and rewarding experience.
Common Challenges Caretakers Experience
- Emotions that are hard to bear – as you witness your loved one’s abilities and the person they once were diminishes
- Extreme exhaustion and fatigue – looking after someone with dementia can be like looking after a small child. You can be up early in the morning until they go to bed and even then, you still have things you need to do while they are asleep if they manage to sleep well.
- Loneliness and isolation – a lot of your day will be spent with your loved one, especially as their daily needs increase, which may make you feel cut off from the rest of the world.
- Work and financial complications – as you will have to devote more time to your loved one and this will only increase if you are taking on the responsibility of looking after them by yourself (or in a combined effort with other family members, such as your siblings or significant other).
Rewards of Caring for a Loved One With Alzheimer’s or Dementia
The challenges and difficulties can be fairly easy to identify. However, there are unique opportunities, blessings and rewards that can come to you as a caretaker. As we want you to really think long and hard about all that’s involved in looking after your loved one if they have Alzheimer’s, we feel it’s important to highlight some of the rewards you benefit from as well as the challenges outlined above.
- The bond you have with your loved one deepens as you provide them the companionship and care they need
- Your relationship skills and problem-solving skills improve
- You can form new and lasting relationships with people who have had the same experiences as you through special support groups
How to Care for Someone with Alzheimer’s
Establish a Daily Routine
As with many things, consistency can be key. Creating and doing your best to live closely within a routine will provide a safer environment for your loved one. Once you have established routines you will be able to notice patterns in behavior. There may be times of the day where the person you care for is more cooperative than others. This will help you know better times to help them take their medications.
Creating a routine can also help maintain more appropriate and regular sleep schedules. This will not only be helpful to them but for you as the caregiver. It does sometimes happen that people with Alzheimer’s will get their days and nights mixed up. Sleeping well and at appropriate times will also improve the overall well-being and emotional state of everyone involved.
Make Time for Active Listening
As a caretaker, you have many different responsibilities that you need to fulfill. It can be easy to rush about getting certain tasks that we don’t make the time to speak with and listen to our loved ones. engaging those we care for in conversations is a great way to cognitively stimulate and emotionally connect. It may be difficult to actively listen the entire day but if there is time set aside specifically for talking it will make it easier. Your loved one will feel more cared for and appreciated when we have time to listen to them.
Be Encouraging and Reassuring
Improve Safety Around the Home and Property
Plan Activities for Memory Stimulation
Plan Other Meaningful Activities
Be Patient in Your Communication
Try to Provide More Simple Clothing Options
Care for Yourself
Understanding Alzheimer’s Disease
As well as understanding the different types of challenges and rewards you may experience from looking after someone with Alzheimer’s Disease or related dementia, understanding the disease itself is also crucial. Although everyone’s experience is different and not everyone has the same symptoms, having an idea of what lays ahead can help you to plan things better.
It is hard to really break down such a complicated illness as Alzheimer’s, but the progression of the symptoms and its effects can be categorized into three stages – mild, moderate, and severe.
Early Stage or Mild Alzheimer’s Disease
When people are in the very early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease and have mild symptoms, they can still function on a day to day level with relative normality. They are still able to work and take part in social events and activities.
The way the disease normally manifests itself in this stage is through difficulties with concentration and short-term memory loss. They can start to forget certain names and words and will have slight, but noticeable issues with solving problems and writing.
Moderate Alzheimer’s Disease
Once Alzheimer’s Disease enters its moderate stage, they will experience significant physical symptoms along with stronger senses of confusion and memory loss.
During this stage people may also have other symptoms like:
- Changes in their personality
- Trouble recognizing relatives and close friends
- Fecal or urinary incontinence
- Getting lost or wandering off
- Trouble getting to sleep and restlessness
- Difficulty performing normal everyday tasks, like getting washed and dressed
- Trouble following instructions or being organized
Severe Stages of Alzheimer’s Disease
Once a person with Alzheimer’s Disease reaches the severe stages of the illness, they will need help with most of their everyday activities, like getting up from bed in the morning, sitting up, walking, and even eating.
It’s during this stage that they will start to have increased difficulty formulating sentences and keeping track of their train of thought, so engaging in conversations is hard. They may even have problems with chewing food and swallowing it.
It is also during this stage that people who have severe symptoms are unaware of their surroundings and environment and therefore need to be closely monitored. They also are unable to recognize loved ones.
Why A Memory Care Facility Might be Helpful?
We understand that they are a member of your family and because of this, you don’t want to leave their care to a stranger. As we said, it is commendable that you feel you owe them and want to take on the responsibility of caring for them yourself. But, taking on board everything we have outlined, and this post merely has scratched the surface of what’s involved, there may come a time when moving them into an assisted living facility, where you can get the benefit of professional help is the best way forward.
There is definitely no shame in putting your hands up and saying you need help and that help is as much for you as your loved one.
Other Helpful Resources on Caring For People with Alzheimer’s