Alan Stevens, PhD has special emphasis in geriatrics, and says this disease is due to buildup of plaques and tangles in the brain that trigger inflammation and an immune system response, with the gradual death of brain cells. This loss of brain cells leads to dementia, a syndrome grouping symptoms like memory loss, language problems, and difficulty problem-solving, among others.
The Care Rests on Family Members
“Family members provide the majority of care needed by a person with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia,” says Dr. Stevens.
In the early stages of the disease, family members typically monitor the symptoms such as memory loss. During this time you may find yourself trying to support your loved one’s independence, despite the change in important cognitive abilities.
Over time, as a family caregiver you will begin to assume more responsibility of the person’s care, including managing your loved one’s legal and financial issues.
Progression of the disease eventually leads to family caregivers needing to help with daily activities of living like bathing, dressing, or using the bathroom. Dr. Stevens says family caregivers typically face some common issues like, “taking the car keys away,” or “providing 24 hour supervision of the person to make sure he or she is eating appropriately.”
Dr. Stevens gives practical advice for family members who are helping someone with this disease. He outlines seven things to remember as you cope together.
Seven Things to Keep in Mind
1. Learn caregiving skills.
Dr. Stevens says basic dementia caregiving skills include communication skills, modifying the environment to match the person’s abilities, and learning how to deal with problem behaviors that occur with dementia.
2. Identify sources of social and emotional support.
Understanding that social supports are needed from the beginning of the caregiving process is important. Social support can come from family members, friends, and professional services like adult day care. Dr. Stevens says emotional support is also essential.
“Caregiving can lead to depression, especially if the caregiver is the spouse of the person with dementia,” he explains. “Seek emotional support from family, friends, and clergy.” Lastly, mental health professionals and healthcare providers are an important source of information and support. Be sure to inform these professionals of your caregiving role when seeking services.
3. Look for ways to enhance the environment as cognitive abilities are lost.
You can use labels for common objects, or set up calendars for scheduled activities.
4. Establish a daily routine that includes activities for the loved one and free time for the caregiver.
Balance is important, and if your loved one knows when to count on you, it can make daily life run smoother as expectations are outlined.
“Family caregivers can become isolated by the caregiving role,” says Dr. Stevens. “They are often consumed by the need to provide 24 hour supervision.”
5. Learn and use communication skills designed for persons with dementia.
This can take practice as well as patience, but remember to keep a larger perspective to avoid frustration.
6. Remember that the symptoms displayed by the person with Alzheimer’s disease are caused by actual changes in the brain and the person cannot control them.
Dr. Stevens says this is a true disorder, and blaming the loved one or getting frustrated will not help either of you move forwarded in a positive way.
7. Treat the loved one with respect and work to maintain the loved one’s dignity.
It can be humbling to ask for help or to see your loved one struggling. Try to remember who it really is you are caring for.
For more information about how to help an aging adult, contact The Scott & White Program on Aging and Care.