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How to Care for a Loved One with Alzheimer’s Disease

Caring for an aging loved one is challenging. When that loved one is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, the task can seem nearly impossible to even the best of caregivers. It’s difficult to know the person you are very close to may lose the ability to remember your name or worse recognize you. While every case is different, here are some general guidelines intended to help you provide the best possible care for your loved one with Alzheimer’s disease.

What is Alzheimer’s Disease?

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, a general term for cognitive decline and memory loss. It affects memory, thinking, and behavior. While the progressive cognitive decline is devastating, the most upsetting part of Alzheimer’s is it is currently irreversible.

  • Alzheimer’s is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States.
  • Those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s live an average of 8 years after symptoms have become noticeable.
  • Changes in the brain related to Alzheimer’s begin years before there are any signs of the disease.
  • Those with Alzheimer’s still experience joy and happiness, despite their increased confused state.

Caring Through the Stages of Alzheimer’s Disease

The intellectual impairment progresses gradually from occasional forgetfulness to complete disability. At first, the person may seem a little forgetful. Then, they may have more difficulty learning new skills or even speaking. As the disease advances, the job becomes more and more demanding.

With that being said, it’s important to remember even though Alzheimer’s disease can’t be stopped, there is a lot you can do to improve the overall quality of life of both you and the person suffering. By understanding how Alzheimer’s advances, you will be able to adapt and prepare for inevitable.

Mid-Alzheimer’s disease (early-stage)
The early-stage of Alzheimer’s is referred to as mid-Alzheimer’s disease or early-stage. This stage is the most difficult to recognize. Failing to remember appointments and conversations have just happened in as little as a few hours ago can be a red flag.

If your loved one has just been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, one of the most important things you can do for them is to get informed. The more you know about the disease, the more you will be able to understand what they are going through. When you have a better comprehension of the disease, you will able to manage their care better. You will be able to see why they are acting the way they are and will be more likely to cope with the enhanced level of patience your new role requires of you.

During this early stage, you should focus on maximizing their independence. You can accomplish this by supporting them in their decisions, providing the necessary companionship, and helping them prepare for their future. Taking the initiative to learn and prepare will help you overcome if not avoid many of the potential obstacles this diagnosis comes with.

For example, knowing a common side-effect of Alzheimer’s is aggression can go a long way. If your loved one becomes aggressive for seemingly no reason, you will be able to internalize it better. You will know it’s part of the disease, and you won’t take it personally. Knowing why something is happening can only benefit you and your loved one.

Moderate Alzheimer’s Disease (middle-stage)
The middle-stage is called Moderate Alzheimer’s disease. It is the longest stage and also requires the most flexibility on your end as a caregiver. You will likely notice your loved one has more difficulty with words and they may get frustrated more easily. They may also refuse to do tasks they find unappealing. This includes tasks such as bathing, which often becomes more of an ordeal as the disease progresses.

The care you provide is going to more demanding and require lots of patience. Give your loved one as much structure as possible and be prepared to adjust the parts of the routine that are not working.

Severe Alzheimer’s Disease (late-stage)
The final stage of Alzheimer’s disease is no doubt the most challenging. During this stage, your loved one may have difficulty doing basic tasks such as eating and swallowing. They will need around the clock care and you will likely need help. 

During this stage, you should take extra precautions to ensure your loved one is not in pain because they may have difficulty communicating it with you.

Much of your loved ones life is experienced through senses, meaning touch, sound, taste, sight, and smell. For this reason, you can care for them by directly targeting these senses. For example, you can read to them, play music for them, and make them their favorite foods.

But most importantly, the care you provide should focus on preserving their quality of life and dignity.

Communicating with someone who has Alzheimer Disease

  • Don’t talk about them when they can hear you
  • Talk to them NOT at them
  • Communicate with them calmly
  • Avoid arguing or trying to convince them of something
  • Refrain from communicating when either of you is tired

Remembering to Care for Yourself

Remembering to care for yourself is one of the things caregivers often need to be reminded of. It is easy to get caught up in all the responsibilities you have while caring for someone with Alzheimer’s Disease, but if you are not well taken care of, you will not be able to provide the care your loved one deserves. When this happens it may cause you to feel as though you are falling short – creating more stress than you already have. Stress can cause you to do and behave in ways you normally would have. It even causes you to take out your frustration on the person you are caring for – which will only worsen the problem. Never neglect to take time off and accept help when you need it.

Knowing if Someone Has Alzheimer’s Disease

There are 10 signs of Alzheimer’s disease provided by The Alzheimer’s Association.

  1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life
  2. Challenges in planning and/or problem-solving
  3. Difficulty completing everyday tasks
  4. Confusing times and/or places
  5. Trouble understanding images and spatial relationships
  6. Problems with words when speaking and writing
  7. Misplacing things
  8. Decreased/ poor judgment
  9. Withdrawl from work and/or social activities
  10. Changes in mood and/or personality

Severe memory loss is never a normal part of aging. If you notice any of these signs in yourself or a loved one, be sure to seek medical advice.