One of the most difficult things about dealing with Alzheimer’s is the feeling that the loved one is already gone. If we’ve had elderly relatives with Alzheimer’s disease, we know symptoms can begin early, and getting a definitive diagnosis can prove difficult.
Family members must grieve their loved ones long before Alzheimer’s disease enters its later stages. That’s because people living with Alzheimer’s exhibit symptoms which, to those around them, seem like dramatic personality changes.
These symptoms, coupled with the loss of functional capabilities, such as balance and sensory perception, as well as memory impairment, mean that individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and those around them are faced with many changes. Here’s a look at a few dos and don’ts for people with Alzheimer’s disease.
Four DO’s To Help You Cope With Alzheimer’s
DO: Remember that personality changes are caused by the disease, not the individual. This is important for both Alzheimer’s sufferers and their friends and family to remember. It’s easy to get frustrated with symptoms such as agitation, but these symptoms do not define the individual as a person. One thing that might help reduce these negative reactions is exercise. As this article explains, exercise, especially swimming, can help boost mood and reduce anxiety in people with Alzheimer’s.
DO: Try to pinpoint the cause of aggressive behaviors. Often, aggressive behaviors stem from fear. When a person with Alzheimer’s begins to strongly express desires, such as wanting to go home or wanting to go to bed, these situations can escalate into aggression and are often triggered by physical discomfort, poor communication, or environmental factors such as being in unfamiliar locations or surrounded by unfamiliar people.
DO: Offer clear, concrete options. Open-ended questions require a person with Alzheimer’s to not only find the right words to communicate their wishes, but also to use decision-making skills. This combination can lead to frustration. It’s easier for both of you if you offer clear choices between two options. Keep it simple. For example, this piece explains the ins and outs of helping a person with Alzheimer’s or dementia take care of hygiene. If things like bathing and hair washing become a struggle, it suggests you could let the person in your care choose to do one or the other on a given day rather than trying to tackle both.
DO: Plan for visits strategically and limit visitors to one or two people at a time. Planning visits for the times of day when a person with Alzheimer’s is functioning at their best means better communication, less frustration, and a more positive experience overall for all involved. Minimize other distractions by turning off the television or radio and asking non-visitors to go to another room so that the environment is calm and quiet.
Three Don’ts To Keep Alzheimer’s From Adding To Your Stress
DON’T: Ignore a person with Alzheimer’s disease. If you’re not used to being around someone with Alzheimer’s disease, you might feel uncomfortable or unsure how to communicate. But the worst thing you can do is ignore their presence. Treat them with the same respect you’d treat any other human being. While they may not be able to remember everything perfectly and may lose words from time to time, people in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease are able to communicate quite well.
DON’T: Set unrealistic goals. When a person has Alzheimer’s disease, their abilities change gradually over time. It’s important for both the person suffering from Alzheimer’s and their caregivers to be flexible and adapt to these changes, which may mean adjusting expectations – about both what the Alzheimer’s sufferer can do and what the primary caregiver is able to do for them.
DON’T: Ever argue with someone with Alzheimer’s disease. Experts say that it’s not necessary for a person with Alzheimer’s disease to always be grounded in reality. Because they may forget important events, such as the death of a parent, they may speak as though their parent is still living. Correcting these statements can quickly escalate to an argument, which offers no benefits to anyone and, in fact, can increase stress and feelings of anger and frustration.
Over time, family and friends of a person with Alzheimer’s adapt to personality changes and other symptoms, learning what to do and what not to do during daily activities and general communication. These dos and don’ts help to maintain a positive relationship and minimize stress for both the Alzheimer’s sufferer and their family and friends.