Those who are suffering from dementia and Alzheimer's often require a caregiver to get through the day. Alzheimer's is a progressive disease, which means that there is an early-stage, middle-stage and late-stage of the disease. Parallel with this disease progression, there is an increase in the need of involvement for the caregiver. As a caregiver, here are some tips to help you on a day-to-day basis during this progression:
1. Educate Yourself
You owe it to yourself and your loved one to be familiar with dementia symptoms, and what behaviors will likely come along soon. There are online resources as well as local organizations that are willing and able to help you understand what is happening and how things might proceed.
2. Make Decisions Together
This may not be comfortable at first: everyone will have to get used to the new situation presented. But as soon as possible, begin to talk about the future and make as many decisions together with your loved one as you can, including legal, financial, and long-term care planning.
3. Form a Support Network
Make this a conscious effort to ask for helpers. Include people who can and will come and do things as well as those who offer emotional and spiritual support. Ask people who you think can and who honestly want to help. And ask more people than you think you need: there will be times (holidays for instance) when ‘everyone’ will be busy. Ask outside your family and relatives, too. That ups the chances of them not being busy when the family is.
4. Check the Home for Safety
Conduct a home safety assessment, looking at your loved one's house through the eyes of a person with dementia. Notice the tripping hazards. Look for the locks and latches that might be better off hidden or removed. Update your list of emergency numbers and post it in a convenient place. Designate or create places to securely store hazardous materials, harsh cleaning supplies, medicines, etc. Decide if the kitchen or garage should be off-limits, and if so, how to control access to them.
5. Set Up a Daily Routine
One of the best ideas for every dementia or Alzheimer’s caregiver is early on set up a daily routine for the patient. The comfort and security of the familiar for them is a calming, reassuring influence. It can reduce the number of episodes wandering off (six in ten people with dementia will wander) and if they become restless or irritated in the moment, acknowledge their emotional state and invite them to return to routine. As a side note, a daily routine also allows relief caregivers a guide to follow when they come to help out.
6. Reassure Your Loved One
As the disease progresses, your loved one may understand less and less. Their sense of being lost or abandoned is disorienting. Their emotions may become strongly negative. But at every stage, talk to them about their expectations, questions and concerns. Involve them in their life as much as you can. Although they may not be able to communicate their desires well, even a hint about what they want helps you to take better care of them. Do your best to respond with affection and reassurance.
7. Beware of Caregiver Burnout
It’s easy to think you have to do this yourself, that your loved one deserves it, that you owe it to them to give them all you’ve got. That’s kind-hearted, but you are human and the time will come when you need a break. That’s not a weak or bad thing, it’s just human. Everyone can experience burnout. Go to your support network and ask for a day off. That’s what they are there for.
To learn more about the challenges that Alzheimer's and dementia can bring to you or your loved one, refer to our Family Caregiver Guide to Alzheimer's & Dementia. Access our free content library by first locating a Caring team near you.