The first two parts of this series focused more on Alzheimer’s patients. Part one addressed early warning signs so that those living with this challenging disease can seek an early diagnosis (which is also why we developed our app).
Part two addressed the patients who have already been diagnosed, supporting their life after a diagnosis.
Today, we would like to focus more on those who care for Alzheimer’s patients. With more than 5 million Americans suffering from this disease alone, there are a lot of additional loved ones who are impacted as a result. Not only are they affected on an emotional level, but many are also tested mentally and physically once they become a caregiver.
Whether you are preparing to become a caregiver or have been caring for a loved one for months or even years, it is important to stay up-to-date with the latest research. This will allow your loved one to remain safe and comfortable while you reduce your risk of caregiver burnout.
Understanding the Impact of Alzheimer’s and Other Dementias
Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia significantly impact all aspects of one’s life. Although each and every patient is affected differently, changes in cognition, mood, mobility, and behavior can all be expected. At first, these changes may be subtle. However, over time, your loved one will become completely reliant on you and others.
With so many people affected by Alzheimer’s, both directly and indirectly, there is a growing body of research that encourages effective care strategies. The learning process surrounding Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases never stops. As both professional caregivers and families increase their understanding and become more experienced, this provides a support system for the entire community.
As you will soon realize, being a caregiver for someone with Alzheimer’s involves much more than physical care. You will need to tend to them emotionally as well. Having dementia does not mean one cannot feel happiness or enjoy their surroundings.
To learn more about what your loved one is experiencing, please read this comprehensive resource, “A Caregiver’s Guide to Understanding Dementia Behaviors”. The more you understand in terms of your loved one’s experiences, the easier it will be to maintain positive behaviors. You will also both benefit from a higher quality of life.
Your loved one is very much “alive” and emotionally present
This topic tends to relate back to dignity and the overall emotional needs of any living being. Based on music therapy and the research surrounding the benefits of music, it is clear that Alzheimer’s patients are still very much “alive” inside. This is what inspired the heart-warming film, Alive Inside – a story of music and memory.
In many ways, especially during the later stages of dementia, your loved one may seem as though they are not present. However, many experts agree that nearly all people living with dementia, even those in the later stages, can still enjoy life. Whether or not they do, depends highly on the level of care and support they receive, as well as their environment.
If you would like to see what others are going through, this booklet from the Alzheimer’s Society is certainly worth reading. By speaking to people with Alzheimer’s, they were able to provide some critical insight. This resource is particularly useful if your loved one was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
Communicating with your loved one
To strengthen your relationship and maintain a more stable household, communication will be key. This is one area which will significantly change over time, as your loved one will become less and less able to respond or hold a conversation. Although this can be frustrating, it is always best to remain calm and use some of the strategies below.
Limit surrounding distractions — Noise can be highly distracting. If possible, always aim to communicate in a quiet room so that you have their full attention.
Keep communication simple — Dementia can severely impact the way in which someone interprets information. If you try to convey a complex idea, this may lead to increased confusion and frustration. All questions should be clear and as simple as possible.
Don’t forget your body language — Since verbal communication is impaired, it is important that you communicate with positive body language. For example, you may want to lower yourself down to your loved one’s eye level. Once you have an understanding of what it is they would like, nod and reassure them that you understand what it is they are trying to say.
The best thing you can do is try to connect with your loved one (even if they seem unresponsive). You can place meaningful objects in their hand, listen to music together, or look through photographs.
Take care of yourself
Being a caregiver is a selfless job. It is also incredibly tough. Some days, you may feel as though it has all been worth it, and on other days, you will doubt every decision you have made. At the end of the day, in order to be a great caregiver, you need to take care of yourself. You cannot be compassionate and focused day-in and day-out if you do not tend to your own needs.
Do not feel guilty about spending some time with your friends or family. You need this social time to unwind. Caregiver support groups are also highly recommended. These groups can provide you with the level of insight and understanding you may seek.
Take care of yourself and you will be able to provide the best possible care.
For more resources, please refer to the following articles: