Caring for Someone with Alzheimer’s

Chances are you probably know somebody suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 5.8 million Americans are currently living with this neurodegenerative disease. As the population of older Americans continues to grow, so will those diagnosed with the disease. It is projected that by the year 2050, 13.8 million people will have Alzheimer’s barring there are no medical breakthroughs. 

Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the US, and the fifth leading cause for those 65 and older. Almost two-thirds of those with Alzheimer’s are women. People with Alzheimer’s have difficulty remembering newly learned information. As the disease progresses, more severe symptoms present themselves such as disorientation, mood and behavior changes, and confusion. Eventually it may affect a person’s physical abilities such as swallowing and/or walking. 

The Symptoms of Alzheimers’ Disease

According to the National Institute on Aging, there are many personality and behavior changes that come along with the disease. Here are the changes that you may notice in your newly diagnosed loved one:

  1. Depression and uninterested 
  2. Gets upset, worried or angry more easily 
  3. Imagines things that aren’t there 
  4. Misunderstandings are more common

While research is ongoing and there are treatments for certain symptoms of Alzheimer’s available such as antidepressants and antipsychotics, currently there is no cure for the disease.  

The Caregivers of Alzheimers’ Patients

More than 16 million Americans provide unpaid care for those suffering from the disease or other forms of dementia.  The Alzheimer’s Association found that “twice as many caregivers of those with dementia indicate substantial emotional, financial and physical difficulties.” 

What You Can Do

It can be devastating when your own family member can’t recall your name or stops recognizing you. Try not to take it personally.   According to the CDC, the Family Caregiver Alliance, and Johns Hopkins Medicine, here are some tips to keep in mind while caring for someone with Alzheimer’s:

Caring for Someone with Alzheimer's

  1. Stay positive. Having a positive mindset can make a big difference in an interaction. The tone in which you speak, as well as your facial expressions, and your physical touch can help show your feelings of affection and get your message across. 
  2. Help them keep a daily routine.  Alzheimer’s patients are most comfortable with familiarity.   Anything new should be introduced slowly, and major changes should try to be avoided.
  3. Keep questions simple. When asking questions, only ask one at a time.  Sticking to a yes/no type of question will cause less frustration than an open-ended one. 
  4. Limit the corrections.  His/her memory may be skewed, but throwing out corrections is likely to cause aggravation. When correcting him/her, offer the corrections as suggestions so they do not come across in a scolding manner. 
  5. Avoid distractions. Too much noise, such as that coming from the television, can cause frustration, especially when trying to get his/her attention. 
  6. Reminisce together. While their short-term memories may be failing them (try to avoid asking what they had for lunch), they may have no problem at all recalling stories from their earlier lives. Going through old photos together may help to trigger these beautiful memories. 

For more information and resources on Alzheimer’s, please visit the Alzheimer’s Association.