An Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis isn’t just devastating for the person with the condition. Many people will end up serving as caregivers for loved ones with Alzheimer’s, which can be incredibly distressing, isolating, and life-altering.
Several Alzheimer’s caregivers give their best advice on how to look after someone with the disease—and how to care for yourself in the process, too.
1. Try to be as patient as you can with your loved one.
Alzheimer’s disease is notorious for tragically stealing a person’s memory. No one could blame you for feeling awful as this affects your loved one. It’s also normal if sometimes you get frustrated about it, but taking that frustration out on your loved one won’t help.
2. Don’t waste energy reminding them that they’ve learned something before.
Trying to make a person with Alzheimer’s remember that they once knew something can just lead to a lot of frustration on both ends.
That’s not to say you can’t kindly try to help them remember things that would make them happy. Compiling something like a memory box may help a person with Alzheimer’s remember the past. But reminding them that they once knew something—or asking if they remember when they clearly don’t—isn’t the same thing.
3. Keep things simple so they’re easier for your loved one to understand.
4. Have go-to methods of calming them when they’re upset.
When mom gets confused, try to distract her with something very simple.
5. Use aids to help them keep track of time.
People with Alzheimer’s disease can have difficulty keeping track of details like what time and day it is. “Grammy had a tendency to take a nap and then wake up and think it was a new day,” Cecelia N. tells SELF of her grandmother. So, her family installed two clocks on the wall. One told the date; the other told the time and showed a sun or moon to help distinguish night from day.
6. Build in more time for chores and self-care tasks than your loved one would have needed before.
Chores and self-care can be a challenge for people with Alzheimer’s. It might seem simple, but there are actually so many components to taking a shower, from turning the knob on the faucet, to shampooing and conditioning, to picking up the soap and putting it on a washcloth. This can make something as seemingly easy as taking a shower really difficult and time-consuming for someone with Alzheimer’s. (Or, if you’re helping them, it can take longer than you would expect.)
Try to help with some of these duties so life is easier for your loved one.
7. Accommodate (or anticipate) their requests if you can, even if you don’t understand them.
8. Pay attention to signs that the disease is progressing.
Alzheimer’s disease goes through five stages starting with preclinical Alzheimer’s (when symptoms aren’t noticeable) and ending with the final phase, severe dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease. Since Alzheimer’s isn’t curable, the medical treatments focus on reducing symptoms and preventing how quickly the condition evolves. The sooner you notice your loved one’s symptoms changing, the better.
9. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. It’s important to allow yourself to not feel like you’re giving up when you ask for medical help, that sometimes it’s what’s best for them.
10. Build a support network.
When you’re dealing with such an emotionally fraught situation, you might want to carry the load yourself. Don’t. When your loved one is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia, you must take steps to build a web of support for yourself and your loved one. That means not only finding a team of medical professionals but connecting with others in the Alzheimer’s disease community.
There is a lot of help and support through the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America.
11. Remember that you deserve care, too.