Caring for a Loved One With Alzheimer’s - Southern Medical Association

May 24, 2021

Caring for a Loved One With Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer’s disease affects millions of Americans. It can be your grandparent, your cousin, your sibling or even your parent who faces the diagnosis. Eventually, those with Alzheimer’s require round-the-clock care, and for many families, that means taking the loved one into their own home. It can be emotionally difficult to care for loved ones who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer's. Due to their memory loss, they may become more anxious, confused, and thus easily agitated.

The Southern Medical Association offers the following guidance to help you along the way as you navigate your new role as caregiver.

Safety Precautions
Before moving patients with Alzheimer’s into your home, it is important that you take the proper precautions in order to ensure that the home is a safe space for them to live in. This unfortunately is similar to the process of baby proofing in that you’ll need to eliminate trip hazards like dangling cords and loose rugs, as well as harmful materials such as chemicals, knives, and any item that can accidentally lead to injury. Keep your house well lit, and install working alarms to notify you of smoke or carbon monoxide or when someone uses an exit. Lock up medications and alcohol as well as any drawer or cabinet that contains breakable or dangerous objects.

Chances are your loved one’s sense of taste and smell is lacking, so keep an eye on spoiled food in the fridge. It may even be worth investing in a mini-fridge, which will be easier to clean out and maintain. There are plenty of options at various price points, so it doesn’t have to set you back a lot of money. Put decals on windows, lower the water temperature to avoid burns, and update your kitchen and bathroom accordingly to suit any special needs.

Often, caregivers find they need to make additional changes to their homes to accommodate a loved one with AD. Whether it’s room renovations, adding exterior ramps or even remodeling a bathroom for safety. In the event that you make these changes, it’s important to keep the receipts since you could see an uptick in your home’s value. With so many people looking for accessible homes, this can be highly beneficial if you ever decide to sell.

Everyday Life
Depending on your loved one’s stage of the disease, they may not be able to complete everyday tasks. In the earliest stage, one usually cannot drive, make sound financial decisions, shop, or cook. As the disease progresses, they are more prone to get lost and wander off and will likely need all-day supervision. Even though you will have to make several adjustments as they experience new challenges, a solid routine will help to stabilize their health. For example, schedule baths and doctor appointments during the part of the day when your loved one is most alert. Preparing meals ahead of time will also minimize the chance of an injury in the kitchen. Set small goals like getting them fed and dressed, and as much as possible, allow them to feel a sense of independence by offering choices on what they want to eat or wear.

UCSF Medical Center notes that “Often, familiar activities will continue to be enjoyable for a person with AD and should be encouraged.” So make the most of your time together by joining them in their favorite hobbies and surrounding them with familiar objects that make them feel safe and at home. Usually old photos, sounds, and smells are most comforting. Remember that there are bound to be miscommunications, so speak clearly and concisely in a calm manner. Understand that their disease has affected the way they think, and try not to take anything they say or do personally.

It is hard to watch someone you love decline in health. However, when coping with the disease up close and personal, remember to be patient and ask for help when you need it. Self-care is vital in order for you to be well-rested enough to care for someone else, so don’t neglect your own needs. There are in-house health care professionals as well as counseling services that may make life easier for both you and your family members.

Photo courtesy of Unsplash

Lydia Chan is the co-creator of Alzheimers.net, a website that aims to provide tips and resources to help caregivers. After her mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, she found herself struggling with finding balance between the responsibilities of caregiving and her own life. She is passionate about sharing her knowledge and experiences with caregivers and seniors.
Posted in: Medicine & Medical SpecialtiesMental HealthPatient Education