Thursday, May 13, 2010

Alzheimer’s Caregiving Basics

To become an effective Alzheimer's caregiver, it is important to gather as much information as possible about the disease. Start by reading every possible article on Alzheimer's, talk to physicians, learn about medication, and contact the Alzheimer's foundation for informational brochures. Alzheimer's support groups are also a good source of ideas and information. An adult day-care center may also help, allowing a few hours a week of structured activity for the patient. Taking on the role of helping a brain disease sufferer is a difficult task, but there are organizations to turn to for support.

In many families, one member is often the primary Alzheimer’s caregiver, but what happens if that family member is unprepared? If you are that person, then the best thing you can do is to arm yourself with information about Alzheimer’s disease. Here are some helpful tips you can use to become an effective Alzheimer’s caregiver.

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Research, Research, Research!

Talk to the patient’s physician and ask all the questions you have about the symptoms, possible medical treatments, and other alternatives. Request that the doctor provide you a list of related literature and other informational materials on Alzheimer’s disease.

Conduct in-depth research into your community’s medical facilities, from the expertise of the physicians to the medical equipment used. Keep this information, addresses, and telephone numbers within reach at all times.

Get in touch with the following organizations: the Alzheimer's Disease Education and Referral Center (ADEAR) and Alzheimer's Association for starters. Ask them if they provide training on care giving and other management skills to help you become an effective Alzheimer’s caregiver.

Join a support group. You will find the addresses and contact details of these support groups at churches, synagogues, seniors’ centers, and assisted living facilities. They will help provide the emotional support you need, as well as concrete ideas on how to be a better Alzheimer’s caregiver.

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Schedule Is the Key

Create a flexible routine for you and your patient, and you can maximize the times that are best for the person with Alzheimer’s disease. Be kind to yourself, and remember that no matter how hard you try as an Alzheimer’s caregiver, there will be days when nothing goes right for the patient.

Add variety to your patient’s schedule by creating a variety of activities. Perhaps you can use the services of an adult day-care center once a week. This will provide the patient opportunities to socialize and allow you to be a better Alzheimer’s caregiver by providing the breathing space you need. Also, plan your doctors’ visit when it is least crowded and the patient is receptive.

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Think Ahead

Inspect the house and make it accident-proof. You can install locks so that the person with Alzheimer’s disease will not wander out, and be sure to hide any sharp objects that could hurt the patient. Remember to label all the medicines, and keep them locked away.

Being an Alzheimer’s caregiver is never going to be easy. The person you are caring for is suffering from an irreversible brain disorder; however, some of the basics outlined here can help you as you maintain a quality of life for both yourself and the person with Alzheimer’s.

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Basic Tips

Establishing daily routines
A clear routine can decrease confusing decisions for people with Alzheimer's disease (AD). Bringing order to an increasingly chaotic life represents security for anyone feeling confused and disorientated. So, "It's 11.15 - coffee time!" is preferable to, "What would you like to do now?"

Maintaining dignity

The individual needs to contribute to conversations and decisions, and it is best for others never to talk about the person as if he or she is not present, as this can cause feelings of humiliation.

Reinforcing independence

Independence will create self-respect and minimize additional work for caregivers. If others help with an activity, for example, dressing, the helper can start the activity and then allow the individual with AD to complete the task. This will give a sense of achievement.

Separating the person from Alzheimer's disease

Many people become infuriated when the person with AD displays challenging behavior. It is helpful to blame the disease, not the person.

Staying Positive

Conflict causes stress to the caregiver and the person with dementia. It is helpful to avoid focusing on failure, and instead, to highlight any success, or near-success. Becoming upset makes the situation worse.

Sometimes, distraction can solve problems. If the person insists that there is a man in a black cloak nearby, insisting on the truth will cause humiliation. Instead, it can be acknowledged that he or she is seeing the man, but asserted that only the individual can see him – then another subject can be raised. Report hallucinations to a doctor.

Keeping tasks simple

This is achieved by making sure that the individual retains the making of choices - but limiting the choices to avoid confusion. So - instead of saying, "What will you wear today?", the question could be, "Will you wear your blue dress or your green dress today?"


Humor can help to relieve stress. If the person is able to laugh at mistakes, this can lighten difficult situations. If caregivers laugh with the person, not at him or her, that can be even better. Other opportunities exist for laughter too - the antics of a pet or a child, a TV program…

Keeping safe

Safety is a high priority. Fire, electricity, water, obstacles and staircases can cause special concern. Information is available from the local support group, fire authorities, electricians etc. on making the home a safer place.

Remaining healthy

It is important to help maintain physical and mental abilities at the highest possible level. The doctor can advise. A healthy diet will benefit the individual. Memory loss for recent events can sometimes mean that the person may eat two meals instead of one - or have too many unhealthy snacks. Keeping to a firm meal routine is helpful.

Try to include some activities that challenge the person's thought processes (perhaps, a daily word puzzle).

Celebrating a person's existing abilities

It is advisable to focus on strengths instead of weaknesses. Some skills can be retained and enjoyed eg. crafts, singing, gardening etc.

Keep communicating

  • People need to show warmth and affection.
  • The person with AD may express needs through actions.
  • Eyesight and hearing should be checked and maintained.
  • Others should be aware of their own body language, especially when feeling impatient or cross.
Use aids to help memory

Displaying large clear pictures of relatives and friends can be helpful. So can writing notes on a calendar. Doors may be labeled with words and bright distinctive colors. Keeping things neat and well organized also helps memory.

Sources and Additional Information:

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