Thousands find themselves sandwiched between their personal obligations and the need to care for a parent or spouse with Alzheimer’s Disease and/or Dementia. Despite the apparent universal threat, people are surprised to find themselves in a position they never thought could happen to them, the financial, physical, and emotional bind caring for loved ones.
These informal caregivers include spouses, partners, children, grandchildren, friends, and even neighbors. They are unpaid volunteers who find themselves assisting others with the most basic daily tasks. The Alzheimer’s Association reports, “In 2018, 16.3 million family members and friends provided 18.5 billion hours of unpaid care to people with Alzheimer’s and other dementia dementias, at an economic value of nearly $234 billion,” including intimate care. They must assist in feeding, dressing, bathing, toilet assistance, and multiple other duties.
There is training and support for caregivers, but it is not nearly enough or accessible enough considering the epidemic proportion dementia has reached. So, caregivers value any tips they can find to help their individual experience easier and more beneficial for patients.
7 ways you can help:
- Have a nice lunch.
While Alzheimer’s patients are capable enough, it helps to keep them socialized. Taking your patient out for breakfast or lunch is an opportunity to manage their hydration and nutrition. More important, it returns the person to a setting familiar to them. Eating out mixes and mingles them with others. Those early-stage patients will welcome the service, respect, and company. For more advanced patients, you can create the restaurant experience by scheduling an occasional sit down meal at home with tablecloth, linens, comfort food, and other reminders of better times.
Alzheimer’s patients often mimic behavior. So, it helps if you are demonstrative in your use of forks and spoons, drinking glasses, and placing napkins. They are likely to imitate simple functions from putting clothes into the washing machine or folding them out of the dryer. You can help them use the TV remote or pour beverages. Any recalled or continued behavior is positive.
- Keep the music playing.
There’s something special in music. For the patient, it stirs familiar if unclear memories. They may forget the lyrics, but you will find them tapping toes or bobbing their heads. If you keep them up and dancing, they benefit from the mental and physical exercise.
You are likely to free up some of your time if you can outfit your patient with headphones and playlists. Even better, if your patient has skills with one musical instrument or another, you will find they can remember their favorite tunes. Whether it is retained memory or muscle memory isn’t important if it provides brain and body exercise and preoccupies them for a while. Music is likely to calm agitation, spark interest, and enable their own choice of activities.
- Get outside.
Getting some patients outside can be easier said than done. While they are able and you have the access, a visit to a local park, even in a wheelchair, can refresh caregiver and patient. If you can visit the same spot regularly, it adds routine to the visit, and if you can find a spot with colorful gardens, rippling waters, or pleasant children, you will both find it restful.
If that’s not possible, you can bring nature indoors by sitting the person near a window, in a sunroom, or near your garden. If it’s not too much to handle and if you have a pool, you should exercise them in the water. Or, you might check the local “Y” for exercise programs geared to Alzheimer’s experience.
- Stick with the familiar.
At different stages, Alzheimer’s patients may be at different places in their memory. At any given time, they may be childlike, adolescent, newly married, or more. It helps if you can visit where they are in the head. Perhaps they would like to visit where they went on their honeymoon, where they vacationed, and so on. It restores routine, images, and behaviors if only briefly.
Changes are confusing, so you want to create routine in ways you hadn’t thought. You don’t want to change the furniture or its arrangement. You will want to retain their knickknacks and favorite trinkets. For instance, on visiting Parc Provence, you will find “Specially designed suites are set within cozy household environments.” A consistent and memorable environment is comforting and containing.
- Don’t forget the little things.
People enjoy the little things in life. If put on a little extra effort, you can “kill two birds with one stone.” For example, when you must wash the patient’s hair, you might make the task resemble a visit to the beauty parlor with a wash, shampoo, and conditioning with a barber’s cloth around their neck, sitting in front of a mirror, with professional stylist tools and products.
You can do the same with facials, manicures, and pedicures. Each may take time, but making the task enjoyable for the patient can make things fun for you, too. And, these are necessary tasks anyhow. The same might be true of religious services or visits from friends and family. They may like a certain doll, a game, or show.
- Teach the patient.
Dementia patients lose their cognitive skills progressively. But they can still learn in the earliest stages. It’s an opportunity to train them in some basic skills like shapes and signs. If they can learn hand signals or draw some core shapes, they will have a new communication channel. It’s one of the benefits of Bingo.
You can help them communicate with pictures of favorite foods and beverages, magnetic alphabets, geometric images. Or, while they are in the early stages, you should help them assemble photo albums or write or record personal journals and histories. These records will benefit you and all family members.
- Put them to work.
As long as your patient is able, you should put them to work. While they are able, you should set up habits for them. For example, they might set the table, make the bed, polish shoes, and the like. The tasks must be simple, repetitive, and routine.
These little jobs relieve your workload, but they also stimulate the patient’s mind. At the earliest stages, you can discuss and negotiate the jobs you’ll assign. These show respect to their person and your relationship. The discussion is an opportunity to show your understanding and compassion for their advancing problems and worries.
A final tip for helping loved ones with Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Mayo Clinic says “Resilient Living” is the solution to the caregivers’ problem. They acknowledge how, “Alzheimer’s and dementia caregiving takes patience and flexibility.” This much you know, but finding support, learning as much as you can, and following tips like these can ease your caregiver burden.