Alzheimer's Dementia and Caregiver Support
Alzheimer's dementia (AD) is a long-term (chronic) condition that affects the brain. It gets worse over time. It causes a gradual loss of memory and thinking functions. A person with AD may have trouble recognizing familiar people and places, or knowing what day it is. The person’s memory, judgment, and decision-making may also be affected. In severe cases, the person may not respond when someone talks to him or her.
AD is the most common form of dementia. Doctors don’t fully understand what causes AD. It has no cure. But medicines can treat some of the symptoms.
These tips can help you care for a person with AD at home:
A responsible person must be with someone who has advanced AD at all times. He or she should not be left alone or unsupervised.
In the case of advanced AD, keep all medicines in a secure place. They should be under the caregiver’s control. A person with advanced AD should not be allowed to take his or her own medicines. This needs to be supervised by the caregiver.
Here are ways to help a person with dementia:
Keep to a daily routine. Changes in routine can cause stress for someone with dementia. Make a schedule for common daily tasks. These include bathing, dressing, taking medicines, eating meals, going for walks, and going to bed. Opening curtains will help the person tell if it's day or night and what season it is. It's dangerous for a person with dementia to drive. If you aren't sure, the person can take a special driving skills assessment. Many group programs can help.
When talking to a person with dementia, talk slowly and clearly. Use a gentle tone of voice. Choose short, simple words and sentences. Ask one question at a time. Don’t interrupt, criticize, or argue. Be calm and supportive. Use friendly facial expressions. Use pointing and touching to help communicate. If the person has a loss of long-term memory, don’t ask questions about past events. Instead, talk about what is happening now.
Use lists, signs, family photos, clocks, and calendars as memory aids. Label cabinets and drawers. Try to distract, not confront, the person. When he or she becomes frustrated or upset, direct the person’s attention to eating or some other interesting activity.
Talk with your doctor or lawyer about getting a power of attorney for healthcare and for financial decisions. It's best to do this while the person can still sign legal documents and make his or her own legal decisions. Otherwise, you'll need a court order.
Support for the caregiver
As the caregiver, you will need a lot of support for yourself. Caring for a person with dementia is a full-time job. It can drain your emotions and lead to frustration and anger toward the one you love. It's common to have feelings of grief over losing the relationship that you once had. As a caregiver to someone with dementia, you are at higher risk for depression, anxiety, and stress.
Here are some tips to help you cope with being a caregiver:
Learn about dementia and Alzheimer disease so you know what to expect.
Find out about the resources in your community, including adult day-care programs. Ask your healthcare provider for a referral to a social worker, if needed.
Take care of yourself with a healthy diet, exercise, and plenty of rest.
Ask for help. Share some of the caretaking duties with family and friends.
Make personal time for yourself. This is essential! Consider hiring an in-home sitter or home health aide.
Seek counseling or join a caregiver’s support group. Don't isolate yourself or try to cope with this alone. In a support group, you can learn from others in a similar situation.
Visit the Alzheimer’s Association website (www.alz.org) for more information.
Follow up with the person’s healthcare provider, or as advised.
When to seek medical advice
Call your loved-one's healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:
The person refuses to eat or drink
Headache or nausea that gets worse, or repeated vomiting after a fall
Unexplained fever of 100.4º F (38.0º C) or higher, or as advised
Call 911 if any of these occur:
Violent behavior (call police) or behavior becomes too difficult to manage at home
Increased drowsiness, or failure to respond normally
Numbness or weakness of the face, an arm, or a leg
Slurred speech, trouble speaking, walking, or seeing
Fainting spell, dizziness, or seizure
Seizure-like activity. This includes twitching, staring episodes, lip smacking, or sudden periods of worsening confusion.