Providing care for a person with Alzheimer's has unique challenges, so follow these tips to keep yourself supported, allow ample time for your tasks, create a safe environment, and grant independence to your patient when possible.
Anyone who has taken care of a person with Alzheimer's knows that it involves patience and diligence. People with Alzheimer's might be able to perform a task one day and will be unable to perform it the next. It's a confusing time, for both the patient and the caregiver. Here are a few tips to help the caregiver along on this difficult but necessary journey.
Don't Isolate Yourself
Because caring for an Alzheimer's patient can be draining and stressful, it's very important that you set up a system of information and support for yourself. Being informed about the various stages of the disease can help prepare you for symptoms and developments that may be coming. If you can, join an Alzheimer's support group. If no support groups are available in your area, find one online. Support groups can fill up your emotional tank so you have more love and patience to give to your patient. Also, be sure to keep tabs with your friends. Friends stand by each other, and they can be a true lifeline when your sanity and energy are running low.
Allow Plenty of Time for Your Tasks
Being rushed or frustrated is the last thing you or the Alzheimer's patient needs. Expect simple tasks to take a long time. For example, getting dressed can be a painstaking process. You might want to jump in and try to dress the patient yourself, but it's best to allow a person with Alzheimer's to do normal, everyday tasks like these himself for as long as he is able. So when it comes to dressing time, you can streamline the process by setting out the articles of clothing in the order they will be put on. You can tell your patient he needs to wear a sweater because it is cold out. You can help provide clothing that is comfortable and easier to slip into. These are all ways you can help, but it's still going to be a major endeavor for both of you. Be patient, take a deep breath, and allow for the time it takes. This may mean being flexible about your plan for the day. If you don't get to bath time (another long and difficult task), don't worry. Tackle bath time tomorrow.
Make Your Area Safe
Safety is key for Alzheimer's patients, who are sometimes prone to wandering away. You might think you need to lock your patient up in a prison to keep her where she belongs, but there are some other ways to prevent wandering. Lock the doors. If the lock is familiar to the patient, try changing locks or adding an additional lock higher up on the door. If the patient gets up at night to use the bathroom, keep the bathroom light on so it is easier to find. When going on an outing, plan to be extra-attentive, and try not to over-stimulate the patient. To be on the safe side, make sure she is wearing some sort of identification at all times, such as a medical bracelet. Probably the most effective way to prevent wandering is to keep your patient occupied with simple activities! Boredom may lead to the desire to get up and explore.
Keeping your patient safe should be one of your top priorities. Keep harmful items out of reach, in locked closets or cabinets. Go through your house and search for rugs or cords that might cause a fall. Also, be aware of fire hazards, such as matches and lighters. Make sure a fire extinguisher is installed in your area. Lower the water temperature on your water heater to prevent burns. You don't know what a person with Alzheimer's will try to do next, so you need to do your best to create a safe environment.
Allow for Independence When Possible
It's easy to do everything for your patient, especially if that will make your day go better. However, consider your patient's feelings and dignity. He may have a debilitating disease, but he will have some good times when he is capable of taking a walk, sweeping the floor, or some other task. Watch for these good times and allow more independence. Your task as caregiver is not about having a sparkling clean bathroom or getting your patient to bed at the exact same time every evening. It's about taking care of a person, loving that person, and respecting his or her needs and wishes.
Be the best caregiver you can be by taking care of yourself, allowing your Alzheimer's patient to take care of himself as much as possible, and being flexible when you need to give extra time to each task. Your job may be difficult, but it is important to give your patient a supportive, quality life during this scary and confusing time.