Dementia, a decline in mental ability that can interfere with daily life, has more than 100 forms, but Alzheimer’s disease is by far its most common one. For those caring for people with Alzheimer’s, the symptoms of the disease can sometimes be hard to cope with. The more you know about the behaviors of people with Alzheimer’s, the easier it is to be an effective and affectionate caregiver.
Alzheimer’s causes changes in the anatomy of the brain. The range of symptoms, and the rate at which they progress, vary from person to person. Therefore, it’s always important to consult with a medical professional.
One of the first changes to manifest itself is difficulty with communication. Suddenly, the afflicted person finds it hard to identify the right words and recall names, or he/she may get lost in familiar places, forget information soon after reading or hearing it, or lose or misplace things. These changes can bring about confusion, fear, anxiety, loneliness and frustration. As the disease progresses, it’s crucial that caregivers fully understand these symptoms.
To help your loved one with communication difficulties, set the stage for success by removing barriers to understanding. This means:
- Minimizing distractions, such as music or other conversations
- Using facial expressions and gestures
- Using short simple sentences
- Repeating words when this is needed (remember to use a positive, patient tone)
Simplify the daily environment by:
- Installing way finding arrows to the bathroom and/or pictures on doors to visually indicate their functions
- Using the same walking route over and over (whether indoors or outside)
- Creating visual and auditory cues to avoid confusion
Aids to judgment and the performance of daily tasks can include:
- Simplifying instructions and breaking down tasks into smaller steps
- Using calendars, check lists and other organizational aids
- Providing verbal cues and gentle reminders
- Promoting and encouraging independence, cueing your loved one when needed
People living with dementia can be unsure of themselves. Provide words of praise throughout the day. These affirming words let them know they’re on the right track.
The physical and emotional toll of living with dementia are challenging to people with Alzheimer’s, and also to their loved ones and caregivers. Frustration, fear, and anxiety can lead to loneliness and the inability to express physical or emotional needs. Verbal or physical resistance, aggression and agitation may result when there are misunderstandings.
If your loved one shows aggression, recognize what triggered the event and remove that barrier from the environment while avoiding a disagreement or argument with your loved one. If agitation arises, set a routine repeated every day with cues. For example, playing the same calming music prior to going to bed at night will allow your loved one to associate that tune with the bedtime ritual.
To help minimize the potential symptom of depression, promote activities that include independence and purpose. For example, setting the table may not be possible, but wiping the table down may be a doable routine task.
For hallucinations, check your loved one’s surroundings to see if anything triggered it; for example, a shadow or sound. At times, if you ask your loved one to describe the visual hallucination, it may disappear as a different part of the brain is utilized to “see” the scene.
To help avoid wandering, caregivers should provide a daily routine of activities to keep their loved one engaged, avoid busy places, place locks and keys out of the line of sight, and ensure that all basic needs are met in a timely fashion. Have a plan of action for wandering incidents: it should include a list of people to call for help. You might also ask neighbors and friends to be on alert in case they see your loved one out alone. Also, make sure your loved one wears ID jewelry.
It’s important to learn as much as you can about Alzheimer’s disease in order to create a comprehensive plan for giving care and support to the person with the disease. It’s also vital in terms of your own well-being. Fortunately, many communities have support groups or offer assistance to caregivers. These and other locally available resources can provide great support, relief and strength for the caregiver.