An Alzheimer's disease diagnosis doesn't just affect the person diagnosed; it affects the entire family. You may feel overwhelmed by the challenges ahead, but don’t get discouraged. Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive terminal illness, but as a caregiver, you have a unique responsibility. Here are four ways to help your loved one cope with Alzheimer’s disease without sacrificing their quality of life.
1. Be a better communicator.
It’s critical that you understand how to communicate effectively with your loved one. Because the cognitive and behavioral symptoms of Alzheimer’s change as the disease progresses, it’s vital that you continually adapt your communication to suit your loved one’s abilities and behavior.
Above all, keep communication short and simple. Give one direction or ask one question at a time so as not to overwhelm your loved one. Be patient and be prepared to repeat yourself. Your loved one can’t help their condition, so don’t get frustrated or point out their difficulty with memory recall. It’s your responsibility to make them feel safe, not stressed.
Take these communication techniques into consideration to improve your interactions with your loved one:
- Reality therapy: Communicate with your loved one within their own frame of reference for the world, whether or not it has anything to do with reality.
- Validation therapy: Don’t discourage or correct your loved one’s reality. Instead, validate it by truly listening to them and asking questions.
- Redirection: Steer conversation in a different direction without contradicting or denying your loved one’s reality. Be creative by using any opportunity to evoke memories or bring your loved one back to the activity at hand.
- Memory cueing: Use words and visuals to elicit old or recent memories. Place reminder notes in plain sight; color code or put things in numbered order; reminisce about happier times by playing old videotapes or looking through photo albums.
2. Establish a daily routine.
A structured daily routine establishes familiarity and can reduce agitation and improve mood. Maintain organization by sticking to a schedule that includes regular times for daily activities, such as waking up and going to bed, mealtime, and bathing. Consider how your loved one used to structure their day.
Take timing into consideration too. What time of day does your loved one function best? For example, if they have more energy in the morning, use that time to take a walk around the neighborhood. If they are more focused during the afternoon, schedule creative activities later in the day.
3. Encourage meaningful activity.
An Alzheimer's diagnosis doesn't eliminate your loved one's desire to contribute, participate, and succeed. Don’t occupy them with idle busy work. Engaging in meaningful activities and doing things together will help your loved one cope and positively affect their quality of life.
According to Alzheimer’s and dementia care expert Teepa Snow, there are four categories of activities that fill our lives: work, self-care, leisure, and rest. It's imperative that we maintain a balance across all four types of activities, even if dementia is a factor.
- Work activities are often job-related tasks that demonstrate skill, competence, and value. Although your loved one may not be able to perform such tasks to perfection, it will give them a sense of accomplishment. Activities like raking leaves or picking up around the house offer a productive use of time and are also easy to complete.
- Self-care activities are the things we do to care for ourselves and our surroundings. Daily tasks like getting dressed, bathing, and eating require and help maintain motor skills. It adds to their sense of independence, even if they need help along the way.
- Leisure activities are the fun things we do in our free time. Going for walks, looking through photo albums, visiting with friends and family, playing cards, doing puzzles, and cooking are all engaging, stimulating things to do.
- Rest activities are the activities that give us time to relax and recharge. In addition to sleep, listening to music, prayer, cuddling with a pet, and sitting in a rocking chair are low-stress activities that allow us to re-energize.
For these activities to be useful, they need to be modified to suit your loved one’s interests, routines, and abilities. Depending on the stage of Alzheimer’s, they may require more or less assistance with certain activities.
4. Accept help.
If you are the primary caregiver for your loved one, you may feel the weight of responsibility on your shoulders. Caring for your loved one, your own family, and yourself can be quite stressful, which builds up over time. Don’t wait until you’re completely burnt out to start looking for a solution.
Getting help is no sign of weakness. There are options that can ease the burden of responsibility while allowing your loved one to maintain as much independence as possible. That’s why homecare agencies like Bluebird exist.
Our team of expert caregivers is ready to help you and your family navigate this challenging phase of life. From respite care a few days a week to round-the-clock assistance, Bluebird is here to help. Contact us today.