Caring for Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease Patients

By American Geriatrics Society (AGS)

You’re about to enter a new world. The parent or spouse or sibling you’ve known all your life has been diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and is changing before your eyes — perhaps even changing into someone you don’t understand or feel as close to as you would like.

Remember that your loved one has no more control over these changes than you do over the rising and setting of the sun. If you keep that in mind as you interact with him, you may find it easier to be truly compassionate, patient, and caring in your treatment of him. Simply maintaining a calm and upbeat approach can help keep a patient with a memory disorder content and happy and, therefore, easier to manage.

If you’re having trouble handling your loved one or find yourself becoming frustrated by his behavior, consider that your response may be triggering some undesirable behaviors or making the behavior worse. If you feel overwhelmed and out of control, you may not be getting the breaks you need. Remember to schedule regular respite care so you have time for yourself. In addition, it may help to give yourself some visual cues.

For example, get a large marker and some index cards and write one of the following words on each card: patience, tolerance, compassion, love, acceptance, gratitude, flexibility, and any other keyword you think may help you remember your mission — which is to provide the best possible care for your loved one. Now tape the cards in prominent places around your house where they can remind you of your daily caregiving goals and keep you focused on the task at hand and away from negative thinking.

Even with the best possible care, your loved one’s condition will progress and his symptoms and problem behaviors will increase. This isn’t a reflection of anything you have or haven’t done. Blaming yourself and feeling like you’re a failure as a caregiver can create more problems. Seek help immediately if you start to experience these negative feelings.

All the things you take for granted in the course of your day — taking care of your personal needs like bathing, going to the bathroom, preparing and eating a meal, doing a load of laundry — can become monumental challenges for a dementia patient as the disease progresses. Devise ways to help your loved one take care of his needs without demeaning him or triggering conflicts between the two of you.

You’ll need an extra dose of patience as your loved one’s skills erode. Try to focus on the positive; as long as you’re caring for him and trying to help him with the activities of daily living, you have an opportunity to continue your relationship with your loved one, even if it’s very different from the relationship you had in the past. Remember . . . patience.