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Tips for Caring for a Loved One with Alzheimer’s Disease

Caring for a loved one who has Alzheimer’s Disease or another form of dementia requires an abundance of love, patience, and knowledge. There can be obstacles along the way to discourage and dismantle even the best laid plans and overwhelm even the strongest of caregivers.

Here are some basic tips and scenarios to help you relate, keep you enlightened, and prepare you for the journey ahead:

As caregivers, we should join our loved one in their reality, rather than requiring them to live in ours. Being a primary caregiver for someone with moderate to advanced dementia can feel very sacrificial.  In this role, we meet them right where they are at. We sacrifice, with love and compassion, our realities of a normal day-to-day (and often sleepless nights!) way of life.

It is the disease, not the person. For example, if you observe your wife or mother, who was perhaps once a Sunday school teacher to children and often hosted fabulous gatherings that reflected her sweet social graces as a hostess, to be uttering the foulest of obscenities or lashing out personal verbal or physical attacks with reckless abandon, remember-it’s not her! It’s the disease she is fighting against. The disease has damaged and depleted the area of her brain that would otherwise control impulses, angry and inappropriate outbursts, and other socially unacceptable behaviors.  Don’t take these experiences personally, as this will lead to resentment, feeling burdened, and eventually, emotional exhaustion and caregiver burnout.

Success comes in moments…celebrate them! As a caregiver, you have already learned that nothing is for certain. Plans and moods can change in a matter of seconds. What was once considered to be a day-to-day management approach can soon become an hour-by-hour vigil. For instance, when you are helping your Dad shave, and he suddenly takes over and finishes the job, that is every reason to celebrate the moment, giving him encouraging compliments. Perhaps, occasionally, you catch a glimmer of recognition in the eyes of the man he once was while you are now his primary caregiver.  Receive it as his way of telling you how much he loves you and appreciates your continued devotion to him. Celebrate this special moment with him and in your heart. The mind of someone with Alzheimer’s Disease is clouded with road blocks, detour signs with no arrows for direction, and a constant 5:00 P.M. traffic jam. If there are positive outcomes in a day, that means your loved one is fighting to do the best he or she can to function normally and you have helped that person succeed. Celebrate!

On a clinical note, if and when your loved one seems agitated, fixated, anxious, angry, or just down right belligerent and combative, consider the following as possible causes:

  • Has there been a recent medication change?
  • Is she sleep deprived?
  • Is there an obvious source of pain on or in her body that you hadn’t noticed yet? Be sure to check feet and gums if she wears dentures.
  • Is she hungry or thirsty?
  • Could she be constipated?
  • Is her urine dark or smelly, is she leaning to one side, decreased appetite, seems to have a low-grade temperature? These are all the symptoms of a urinary tract infection in a senior with Alzheimer’s or dementia.
  • Urinary tract infections need to be diagnosed and treated quickly. A UTI left untreated can result in hospitalization and an overall decline in health.

If you troubleshoot the situation by asking yourself these questions, or if the situation seems to be escalating, it is okay to let the person be alone for a little while, while you observe from another room nearby. Sometimes it is necessary to call for another friend or family member to try a different approach. A new voice, a different face, a different activity, or a different time of day can be just the solution. If the behavior persists or becomes dangerous, you should get immediate advice from a doctor who is familiar with your loved one or who specializes in the treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia.

Caregiving is an honor and a privilege, but also a labor of love that can have a negative impact on your health and quality of life. If or when a time comes that you feel that caring for a loved one is beyond what you feel you can do effectively, and remain balanced emotionally and physically yourself, it may be time to consider a memory care program. Memory care programs are typically a part of an assisted living program, but sometimes they are a separate, dedicated program offering only memory care on their campus. Memory care programs offer a care staff that has been specially trained in all aspects of Alzheimer’s and Dementia care concepts. Programs and staffing vary from location to location, so it is best to research to find the best fit for your loved one.

This article was written by Shana Robertson, Executive Director at The Pointe at Lifespring Senior Living. For more information about caring for someone with Alzheimer’s Disease and other forms of dementia, or to find out more about this brand-new senior living community, please call 865-687-5353, or email at lifespringED@ISLLLC.com, or inquire via website at www.ThePointeSeniorLiving.com.

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