Finding out that a loved one is diagnosed with severe illness is a life-altering situation and watching someone close to you suffer through Alzheimer’s or dementia, a disease that slowly takes away a person’s identity, is definitely heart-breaking. Making the journey of the patient easier through the pain is the number one priority of the family or close ones. Ensuring the suffering of the patients is minimized in any way possible is what the caregivers focus to achieve. This journey also takes a toll on the emotional and mental health of the people surrounding the patient. It can be said that caregiving not only involves making the life of the patients easier but also ensuring that the emotional and mental health of the caregivers is maintained to guarantee better caregiving.
Alzheimer’s or dementia gradually eats upon a person’s brain cells making it harder for the patient to retain their physical and mental abilities, hence, making it difficult for them to function independently. Gradually, an Alzheimer’s or dementia patient may need constant assistance to perform even their everyday routine tasks.
To make Alzheimer’s easier for the patients, caregivers should try and adopt an understanding and empathetic approach towards the patients. Following guidelines can help a caregiver in easing the pain of the patients as they fight through this incurable disease.
Empathizing with the patient
Empathy is a key emotion to be adopted while caregiving. Educating oneself about the disease and putting one’s self in the patient’s shoes can help caregivers be more understanding and caring towards the patients. Alzheimer’s is a disease that slowly depletes the abilities of an otherwise functioning person. It can be frustrating and emotionally traumatic for the patient to forget basic tasks and to be dependent on other people for them. By showing that you understand and feel for what they are going through, you can help the patients immensely in coping with the emotional stress of the disease.
Allow them to be independent
The fact that Alzheimer’s makes a person forget even the basic information puts them in a vulnerable situation. Caregivers may want to be cautious and assist patients all the time. However, allowing them a certain level of autonomy when performing tasks can help bring back the lost confidence as a result of the disease and make them feel good about themselves. Just remember that Alzheimer’s is a fatal disease. It can only be managed and the symptoms slowed down. It will keep on worsening. So, it is only wise to allow them to feel the sense of self till they can before the time they completely forget who, what and how. Assisting the patients while also making them feel independent can help alleviate some of the frustration and agitation brought about by the disease.
Keeping them involved in life:
Alzheimer’s patients are known to become socially aloof and isolated. The disease makes them hesitant to move in social circles because of their forgetfulness. Forgetting even the most recent conversation or the names of even the most familiar faces may make it embarrassing for the patients to maintain social interactions. The despair and depression caused by the disease may also make the patients give up on hobbies and interests. Keeping the patients involved in social interactions and activities is very important. Being socially, mentally and physically active is vital for a healthier mind and body and for an Alzheimer’s patient it is even more necessary. Keeping the patients involved with activities that interest them or taking them out in social circles helps sustain their depleting mental abilities. It is known to slow down the symptoms since an active brain keeps building new neural pathways. It may also help in countering the symptoms of depression and anxiety which are bound to increase if the patient is left in isolation. Ensuring a life as normal as it can be may help the patients to ease some of the mental and emotional trauma of the disease.
Managing the symptoms:
As we already noted, Alzheimer’s is an incurable disease. The symptoms can only be managed and slowed down through medication and other techniques. Medication prescribed through proper professionals may help in easing the symptoms that come as a result of dementia. Also, keeping the patients mentally stimulated can help slow down the deterioration of the brain cells. Regular exercise, mind puzzles, games, reading books, etc. are some ways to give the patients a mental workout. The more the brain works out, the longer it can retain its abilities. Maintaining a strict routine to ensure proper quality of sleep may help with insomnia and anxiety. Healthier diets enriched with brain-boosting nutrients may also help in managing the symptoms.
Taking care of an Alzheimer’s patient can be frustrating. Repetitive questions, forgetting basic information or even episodes of frustration/agitation can be exhausting for the caregiver. However, Alzheimer’s patients need acceptance. Correcting them or being harsh with them will do more harm than good. Accepting their behavior and realizing that their behavior is only an outcome of the disease may help make the patients feel understood. Not showing signs of conflict as a reaction is important in making sure the symptoms of aggression and isolation in patients do not aggravate. Patients with Alzheimer’s may need constant validation of their emotions/feelings. They lose their ability to reason, therefore, making an Alzheimer’s patient understand that their behavior is incorrect, may just make things worse. Acceptance and validation are key when dealing with Alzheimer’s patients.
Taking care of the patients and easing out their journey will involve making sure the caregivers’ well-being is also supported. Mental exhaustion and stress can result in the caregivers showing signs of frustration and anxiety towards the patients which may worsen the suffering of the already distressed patients. Caregivers can join support clubs and ask for help from people around to make sure the brunt of their stress is not faced by the patients.
Patients with Alzheimer’s suffer a painful process of losing their identity gradually. It takes a toll on their overall health. Knowing that the disease will only worsen and having no cure to it, Alzheimer’s patients suffer severely from emotional distress. Love, acceptance, and empathy are the ways that can make improve the quality of life and make Alzheimer’s easier for our loved ones suffering from it.