When a loved one is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, some families make the decision to care for them at home. This is a difficult and potentially overwhelming task. If you are caring for someone with Alzheimer’s, your role in managing daily tasks will increase as the disease progresses. Consider practical tips that can help the person to participate as much as possible and enable you to manage tasks effectively. Each person with Alzheimer’s disease will experience its symptoms and progression differently. Tailor these practical tips to your family member’s unique needs.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution for dementia caregivers, so the only way to find out what works for you is through trial and error. Each person with Alzheimer’s will respond differently to different strategies, and their effectiveness is likely to change throughout the stages of dementia.
As the caregiver, don’t forget to take care of yourself. If you are going to care for someone else, you won’t be effective if don’t get appropriate sleep, exercise and nourishment.
The Ohio Masonic Home will continue to add to our blog over the next few months. We will continue to provide tips for you to use at home, as well as suggestions on when you may want to bring outside help into your home. Finally, we will offer suggestions on when it may be time to move your loved one to an appropriate care facility. Please refer back to our first post on Recognizing Signs of Alzheimer’s Disease.
(Information that is shown in bold and italics is specific information that The Ohio Masonic Home professionals wanted to make sure is emphasized. These are practices they follow every day.)
In this article we will cover some basics on how to reduce frustration and create a safe environment. We will also cover areas including bathing and dressing. Developing procedures will make these everyday tasks easier on everybody.
A person with Alzheimers may become agitated when once-simple tasks become difficult. To limit challenges and ease frustration for the patient and the caregiver:
- Schedule wisely.Establish a daily routine. Some tasks, such as bathing or medical appointments, are easier when the person is most alert and refreshed.
- Take your time.Anticipate that tasks may take longer than they used to and schedule more time for them. Allow time for breaks during tasks.
- Involve the person.Allow the person to do as much as possible with the least amount of assistance.
- Provide choices.Provide some, but not too many, choices every day.
- Provide simple instructions.Use clear, one-step communication.
- Limit napping.Avoid multiple or prolonged naps during the day. This can minimize getting days and nights reversed.
- Reduce distractions.Turn off the TV and minimize other distractions at mealtime and during conversations to make it easier to focus.
Be Flexible (Caregiver)
Over time, a person with dementia will become more dependent. To reduce frustration, stay flexible and adapt your routine and expectations as needed.
For example, if he or she wants to wear the same outfit every day, consider buying a few identical outfits. (Always treat them with dignity. Help them dress every day. Often times it makes them feel better if you keep their personal appearance appropriate.)
Create a Safe Environment
Alzheimer’s impairs judgment and problem-solving skills, increasing a person’s risk of injury. To promote safety:
- Prevent falls.Avoid small rugs, extension cords and any clutter that could cause falls. Install handrails or grab bars in critical areas such as the bathroom.
- Use locks.Install locks on cabinets that contain anything potentially dangerous, such as medicine, alcohol, guns, cleaning substances, dangerous utensils and tools.
- Take fire safety precautions.Keep matches and lighters out of reach. If the person with dementia smokes, always supervise smoking. Make sure a fire extinguisher is accessible.
Alzheimer’s Bathing, Dressing
- Plan the bath or shower for a time of day when the person is most calm and agreeable. Be consistent and try to develop a routine.
- Respect the fact that bathing can be scary and uncomfortable. Be gentle, patient and calm.
- Move slowly and tell the person what you are going to do, step by step. Allow him or her to assist in the process as much as possible.
- Make sure you have all the products, towels and assistive devices you need set up before bringing your loved one into the bathroom. Draw the bath ahead of time.
- Be sensitive to the temperature of the water and the air. Warm up the room beforehand if necessary, and keep extra towels and a robe nearby. Test the water temperature before beginning the bath or shower.
- Minimize safety risks by using a hand-held showerhead, a shower bench, grab bars, and nonskid bath mats. Never leave the person alone in the bathtub or shower.
- Bathing may not be necessary every day. A sponge bath can be effective between full showers or baths.
For someone who has Alzheimer’s, getting dressed presents a series of challenges: choosing what to wear, getting some clothes off and other clothes on, and fastening items with buttons and zippers. Minimizing these challenges can make a significant difference.
- Try to have the person get dressed at the same time each day so he or she will come to expect it as part of their daily routine.
- Plan to allow extra time so that they can dress themselves as much as they are able without added pressure or having to rush.
- Allow them to choose what they want to wear from a limited selection of outfits. If he or she has a favorite outfit or clothing item, consider buying multiples or the same style in a few different colors.
- Store some clothes in another room to reduce the number of options they have to choose from. Too many options can be overwhelming when trying to make a decision. Keep only a couple of outfits in their closet or dresser.
- Arrange the clothes in the order they are put on to help guide them through the process.
- Hand them one item at a time or give clear, step-by-step instructions if they need prompting.
- Choose clothing that is comfortable, easy to get on and off, and easy to care for. Elastic waistbands and Velcro enclosures minimize struggles with buttons and zippers.