Patients with Alzheimer’s suffer from memory loss, loss of cognitive faculties, loss of reasoning, impaired judgment, and have trouble navigating their way around. To that end, when you’re caring for a loved one who has Alzheimer’s, every day presents a new challenge. There are never enough hours in the day when you’re always keeping an eye on them to make sure they don’t wander, trying to help them bathe, or convincing them that they’re still in their own house.
Your loved one will become more and more dependent on you, to the point that they cannot function without help from others. And with time, performing this role becomes increasingly stressful and frustrating. There are no hard-and-fast rules to be a caregiver, neither is there a one-size-fits-all solution that you can make use of. To cope, manage, and make decisions effectively, caregivers often rely on intuition and hit-and-trial to care for their loved ones. But fortunately, this loss of mental faculties is gradual, which means you’ll have some buffer space to try different strategies and see what works and what doesn’t. You can adjust to these changes and plan for what lies ahead.
In addition to learning about the condition itself, you can use these helpful tips to make this journey more manageable and to make the quality of their life better.
Schedule, Routine, and Plan
The fewer rude awakenings and unexpected challenges, the easier your job will be. Once you have identified the patterns in their behavior, you can work on establishing a routine. A well-laid-out routine will mean fewer surprises, making everyday activities predictable, and less frustrating for you. Note that this routine will need adjusting because there will be gradual changes. Once your loved one gets their diagnosis, they can probably still enjoy a certain degree of freedom. Before the decline worsens, early stages of Alzheimer’s still allow the patient to navigate their way around the house, care for themselves, prepare meals, and even pay their bills.
Use this time to prepare and plan for the long-term. Your plan will always be work in progress, but it’s better than going in blind. It will allow you to anticipate and tackle emergencies, so your loved one can depend on you to provide support. However much effort you’re willing to put in, you can’t do everything alone. You’ll need all the assistance you can from your family members. So please include them in the process, when you map out a plan. Listen to what the patient has to say, and adapt the daily routine to their preferences. Try and assign daily tasks like bathing, bringing meals, and medical appointments to other family members when possible. Their contribution will make caring for your loved one more stress-free, but don’t always expect things to go as per the schedule, anticipate delays.
Educate yourself about the symptoms
Perhaps the first thing you need to do after the diagnosis is to learn. Before you figure out a roadmap for the future, you need to know what lies ahead and how the condition will progress over time. There’s no treatment for Alzheimer’s currently, but you can take steps to identify and manage symptoms. As touched on above, early phases of the condition won’t greatly affect your loved one’s life, work, and everyday activities.
But Alzheimer’s slowly chips away this independence as it progresses, leading to more memory loss, impairment of judgment, outbursts, agitation, restlessness, confusion, and even wandering. This progression will end with late-stage Alzheimer’s when your loved one constantly needs care and support. You’ll notice changes in their personality and behavior. They might have trouble sleeping, eating, and walking.
As you can probably tell by now, your duties as a caregiver will become more and more difficult as the decline progresses, and you’ll often find yourself at a loss. For instance, when Alzheimer’s becomes severe, they’ll likely forget how to chew and swallow. To care for them at that stage, you’ll need to seek help. You’ll need to communicate with their primary physician and get their help and advice.
As the caregiving becomes more demanding, you’ll also find yourself under a tremendous amount of stress. You might struggle with grief, and your job as a caregiver might become an insurmountable challenge. Accept that you cannot be the perfect caregiver. Nobody can be. It might become necessary to get help from in-home care.
These services assist caregivers and seniors, so even if you need a respite, you can hire in-home help to care for your loved one. You can also get emotional support. You can see a grief counselor, join a support group, or let other family members fill in your shoes when needed.
Your priority as a caregiver should be keeping your loved one safe. As their mental health deteriorates further, your loved one will tend to wander. They may be lucid when they navigate their way out of the house but might forget their way back and become lost. And your home might seem perfectly safe to your eyes, but some elements of that environment might be a safety risk.
For instance, your loved one might lock themselves in, if you still have locks on the doors of their room and bathroom installed. Rugs and clutter on the floor might cause them to fall. They might forget to turn off the stove. Even the simple act of bathing can become terrifying for the patient because of they fear that they might fall. So take every possible precaution you can to prevent an accident.
Let technology assist you
You can alleviate some of the aforementioned safety concerns with the help of modern technology. You can invest in a wearable medical alert system, so if they wander and become lost or if there is a medical emergency, the contacts programmed into the gadget will be notified. There are GPS tracking and pressure-sensing mats. You can also use a fall detection alarm, for when they attempt to get up from their bed unattended, the risk of falling can be minimized.
Your loved one’s mood, personality, and behavior will change. As will your responsibilities, and if you don’t cope healthily, the frustrating effects on your mental health will cause caregiver burnout. It can be a heartbreaking ordeal, for you and your loved one, but you’re not alone. Don’t hesitate to reach out to family members, support groups, and in-house help.