An estimated 5.1 million Americans have Alzheimer's disease. Approximately 10 million Americans are unpaid caregivers for a person with Alzheimer's or another form of dementia. The health and emotional stability of people who care for Alzheimer's patients directly affects the patients themselves, and thus should be an important part of the patients care plans. Caregivers often need some help and just a little break now and then to re-charge their batteries.
In addition, the National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC) and the AARP estimate that in 2005, the economic value of the care provided by the 10 million family members and friends of Alzheimer's patients was almost $83 billion (based on their hours of care, which, for 1 in 4 of the caregivers surveyed, was 40 or more hours per week).
Veteran caregivers are usually stressed on some level but also satisfied that they are providing care for a loved one… or for just another human being needing assistance.
What Caregivers Can Expect in Alzheimer’s Patients as the Disease Progresses:
- A decline in logical thinking and judgment
- Inappropriate social behaviors
- Confusion and disorientation
- Rummaging and hiding objects
- Aggressiveness, anger, and frustration
- Night wakefulness
- Refusal to eat
Tips to Lessen the Stresses of Caring for a Loved One With Alzheimer’s Disease:
Alzheimer’s Patient Who Tends to Wander
- Recognize common precursors to wandering, such as restlessness and disorientation.
- Reassure and reorient the person.
- Reduce noise levels and distractions.
- Involve the person in productive daily activities and exercise.
- Have a written plan for yourself if the person does wander.
- Keep a recent photograph of the person to give to police if the person does wander.
- Inform the police and your neighbors of the persons tendency to wander.
- Have the person wear bright, distinctive clothing.
- Label their clothes with a name and phone number.
Alzheimer’s Patient Who Rummages and Hides Things
- Lock cabinets and specific rooms.
- Store valuables, unsafe substances, car keys, etc. out of reach of the person.
- Learn where the person tends to hide objects.
Alzheimer’s Patient Who Becomes Angry or Aggressive
- Don’t take the persons belligerence personally.
- Don’t confront the person about their behavior, it may be beyond their control.
- Give the person (safe) space to let their anger play out.
- Look for patterns in potential anger triggers.
- Try to change the subject or just ignore comments that could become problematic.
Alzheimer’s Patient Who Hallucinates or Is Paranoid
- Don’t argue with the person about whether or not what they are talking about is real.
- Increase lighting so there are less shadows.
- Remove mirrors.
Alzheimer’s Patient Who Cannot Sleep at Night
- Limit intake of caffeine.
- Increase physical activity during the day.
- Either limit naps, or encourage naps (depending on the persons normal daily routine).
- Establish a nighttime routine, including calming elements such as a bath, soft music, and a warm drink (such as milk).
- Keep a nightlight on all night.
Alzheimer’s Patient Who Refuses to Eat
- Provide the person with a number of small meals throughout the day rather than a few large meals.
- Make the person’s favorite food.
- Provide finger food.
- As the disease progresses, provide soft foods that don’t require chewing.
- Remove distractions during mealtimes.
- Have a different caregiver help the person with eating, if at all possible.
The daily routine of caring for a chronically ill person can put tremendous physical and emotional strain on caregivers, particularly for families who have assumed care responsibilities more recently. A number of studies have been conducted regarding interventions targeting Alzheimer's caregivers, as research has shown that caretaker burden is a primary reason for placing Alzheimer's patients in nursing homes.
If this (above) is you… time to ask for some assistance and to take a break; at least a short one.
It is important for caregivers to realize that retraining their patients is, in almost all cases, a wasted effort. A good tip is to put up reminder notes like:
- Do not answer the phone
- Sit down on the toilet
- Do not open this door
- Do not turn on the oven (or burners)
- Put pads (diapers) here
Be firm when it comes to important issues like rebuking inappropriate sexual advances and stopping your patient’s participation in activities they no longer have the ability to do or activities or actions that could harm them or others like:
- Using power tools
- Getting up on ladders
- Aggressive physical behavior toward you, others or pets
And learn not to sweat the small stuff!
There also comes a time, different for everyone, if you are the spouse, primary and/or responsible caregiver or financial manager to stop discussing important decisions (or any decisions) with the patient (ill person), take them off as a sole signer on accounts and take away credit cards and access to checks. Patients suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia are prime targets for salespeople, scammers, and down-right thieves. Sometimes even family members will take advantage of AD and dementia patients.
Sometimes family members have a hard time making this transition, but when you think about it logically, why discuss, argue or create problems by discussing matters with someone who will not remember the discussion 5 minutes, an hour or a day later. It often creates unnecessary strife. And far too many people have given away, lost or were swindled out of valuables, needed funds or even fortunes because their caregivers were afraid to step in before it was too late.
Everyone is different and watching television is a great baby-sitter and activity for patients as the disease progresses, but taking them out on errands, a short walk or to the mall daily or as often as possible helps their attitude and overall well-being.
Reading, if they can, flipping through magazines and doing puzzles or working on the computer are all great alternatives to a full day of nothing but watching TV. Sitting outside in the sun on a nice day is also great for patient’s (everyone’s) overall well-being. See Activities for Alzheimer’s Patients for more ideas.
God bless all the caregivers out there as well as those they watch over!
By Ask Marion - h/t to Third Age