It’s my dad’s yahrzeit. He died in 1998 of a broken heart trying to care for my Alzheimer diseased mother, his wife of over fifty years.
Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease. There’s currently no way to reverse its progress or to cure it. A person may function fairly well for years in its early stage or may decline rapidly. In the beginning the behavioral changes are so slight, it’s hard to pinpoint the problem. Memory lapses are the first sign. Then the person becomes easily confused and has trouble finding their way in public spaces like malls and office buildings.
A few suggestions to help your loved one retain an independence quality of life:
People with early dementia may be aware that something’s not right and blame it on aging, stress, or illness. Some people draw inward, others show frustration and shorter tempers. Try not to mistake moodiness for rudeness; it’s a sign of struggle with the dementia. Gently encourage your loved one to name his or her concerns.
Get an early diagnosis. There are many possibilities include medications, environmental cues, cognitive therapy, and treatment for related conditions such as depression, once the disease is confirmed. Consider enrolling in a clinical trial or other research study on dementia at a university or memory clinic.
Help the person use supports such as lists, diaries, calendars, and notebooks to compensate for memory glitches. The key is to create habits around these behaviors. Encourage the person to carry a small book all times and refer to it. Spend time together labeling faces in old photos, organizing memorabilia or records, and doing other memory-based activities.
Look for ways to modify favorite activities rather than giving them up. Encourage the continued use of longtime skills, typing on a keyboard, handicrafts, or speaking a second language. Resist the urge to step in and do things for the person and allow more time and occasional errors. Erase phrases like Try harder or You’re not concentrating enough.
Rely more strongly on routine. Shift the day so that meals, rest periods, active periods, and bathing come in the same order and about the same time. Label household or bathroom shelves, desk drawers, and other often-used storage places according to key contents. Consider introducing items for safety’s sake that may be needed later: a shower chair, bathroom grab bars, door chimes to help the person get used to them. Start exploring alternate transportation options and find someone to manage the checkbook. Move credit cards and key wallet documents to a secure place.
Embrace the good days and prepare for stormy ones. No single individual can manage dementia care all the way through all alone. Find out now who can help. Regularly update family and friends; the more they hear, the better they can understand. Encourage them to spend time with the person to understand what is happening. Call your local Area Agency on Aging to find out what kinds of resources are available in your community. Join a support group for dementia caregivers. Later, it may be harder to leave the house, so start now.
Take Care of You. It’s natural to focus only on the person with dementia when symptoms are new. Nurturing yourself does the person with dementia a favor. Healthy people provide better care. Live in and embrace the good moments with laughter and gratitude.