Tips for Caring for Someone with Alzheimer's or Dementia

October 01, 2019

"The most important thing to do is to show as much compassion, empathy, and love as you possibly can."

Today’s live show continues Dr. Nancy’s series on Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia, with important tips on how to help care for a loved one suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Dr. Nancy has spent years working and caring with seniors with these conditions, so don’t miss her insightful tips.

Video Highlights

  • 00:19: Quick Recap of Part 1
  • 03:54: Caring for People with Alzheimer’s
  • 06:41: Stay positive
  • 08:32: Establish a daily routine
  • 09:54: Take your time
  • 11:01: Simplify choices
  • 11:59: In fact, simplify everything
  • 13:10: Keep them involved
  • 14:12: Empathy is key
  • 16:08: Treat them with kid gloves
  • 17:18: Safety first
  • 19:10: Recognize triggers
  • 19:55: Take Care Of Yourself
  • 22:01: Wrap-Up

In part one, we talked about the fact that in the U.S., dementia is a syndrome that affects 5 million people, and Alzheimer’s is a disease affecting 6 million people. Both are degenerative conditions that impact the brain, which eventually lead to memory loss and an inability to perform daily tasks. 

Today, we’re focusing on tips to care for someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. But first, a quick recap of the key points we discussed in part one. 

Alzheimer’s Disease

This disease is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States. There is no cure yet for Alzheimer’s, nor is the initial cause known. What is known, is that Alzheimer’s occurs when the connection between brain cells is lost. There are 3 stages of Alzheimer’s:

  • Early stage, or mild Alzheimer’s
  • Middle stage, or moderate Alzheimer’s
  • Late stage, also known as severe Alzheimer’s

Dementia 

Dementia is a broader term under which Alzheimer’s disease exists. Dementia is classified as a group of symptoms that indicate a decline in memory, communication, and the ability to perform daily activities. 

Like Alzheimer’s, dementia presents itself when the brain becomes damaged. This can occur as a result of:

Dementia progresses through 7 stages, ranging from no cognitive decline to very severe cognitive decline. 

Caring for People with Alzheimer’s

Once someone reaches the later stages of dementia or Alzheimer’s, taking care of themselves may prove difficult or even impossible. Not only are they dealing with the inability to remember things or communicate, but they may not be able to think clearly, they often become confused easily, and they could experience mood swings or start behaving unusually. Wandering off or getting lost is not uncommon. The tips we’re about to give you are meant to help you best handle this very difficult situation. 

If the person you’re caring for is a loved one, that can take an additional toll on you as well. That’s why it’s so important to inform yourself with as much knowledge about dementia and Alzheimer’s as possible, knowing the best ways to make your loved one’s transitions through the various associated stages as peaceful as they can possibly be. It can be really hard, but staying positive will help your loved one, as well as yourself. 

When performing daily tasks becomes difficult for someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia, they might become easily frustrated or even angry. There’s a point in their diagnosis when they’re aware that they can no longer do things that once came naturally to them, and that their memory is starting to decline. This can lead to a lot of depression, anxiety, and even agitation as they come to terms with their new normal. 

To reduce these feelings, here are a few things you can do:

Stay positive

Keeping a positive attitude is going to help your loved one just as much as it’s going to help you (if not more). If the person with dementia you are caring for is a loved one, they’ve known you your entire life, and they’re going to be attuned to your body language and tone of voice even as they progress through their condition. It’s important for you to remain upbeat, project positivity, and show how you feel through affection and tone of voice. 

We know that caring for someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia can be extremely heartbreaking and challenging, but smile for your loved one. Seeing their face light up when you do, might even help limit the need to fake it ‘til you make it. 

People in this position also respond well to a sense of touch, so try giving hand massages, and rub in some lavender essential oil. This will help calm the central nervous system, ease anxiety, and allow you to bond with them better.

Establish a daily routine

Be aware of when your loved one functions at their best. For many with Alzheimer’s or dementia, they’re likely going to be the most mentally clear and alert earlier in the day. As they become tired, cognitive function may start to decline. It might be a good idea to schedule doctor’s appointments and social outings in the morning or afternoon. 

If possible, try to avoid throwing curveballs into your loved one’s regular routine. Even if their memory is declining, they might still move through their day with a certain level of automaticity, and if that suddenly changes in some way, the result could be frustration, disorientation, and panic.

Sleep is also really important. We know when we don’t get enough sleep we’re more agitated throughout the day, and this is true for people suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia too. Additionally, the condition can throw off their circadian rhythm, so their body gets confused about when to sleep, wake up, and eat. So do your best to make sleep a big part of the established routine. Keeping them engaged during waking hours can be helpful for this.

Take your time

We’ve already established that a major by-product of Alzheimer’s and dementia is a diminished ability to perform simple, daily tasks like bathing on their own, going to the bathroom, eating on their own, or getting dressed by themselves. Simple, daily tasks take longer. It is so vitally important that you allow for that time. If you know you’re going to be caring for a person with dementia, avoid sticking to any sort of rigid schedule, and plan accordingly if you need to schedule appointments in your off-time. Getting frustrated when you can’t make an appointment isn’t going to help you or your loved one. 

Simplify choices

When presenting a person with dementia with a choice, keep it simple. Ask each question, one at a time and speak clearly and slowly. Try to avoid open-ended questions — stick with asking questions that have “yes” or “no” answers. 

For example, instead of asking “what would you like to drink?” ask, “Would you like water or iced tea?” Better yet, if you can, provide visuals so your loved one can use non-verbals like pointing to their choice. 

In fact, simplify everything

That includes limiting as many distractions as possible, especially when you are having a conversation with someone with dementia. Turn off the TV or steer clear of public places with a lot of noise and activity. A person with Alzheimer’s or dementia will become easily overstimulated, which can result in frustration and agitation. Establish eye contact and call your loved one by name before asking them a question or speaking to them so you’re sure you have their attention. 

Keep them involved

A person with Alzheimer’s or dementia is going to reach a point at which they can no longer keep up with conversations, especially if there is more than one happening at a time. Do your best to engage them in conversation, even if it is by asking simple yes or no questions. 

Additionally, keep them engaged in their daily activities as long into the progression of the condition as you can. Again, offer visual cues or reminders to help them set the table or lay out their clothes so they can continue to feel empowered getting dressed on their own. 

Empathy is key

Often, someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia is going to tell you a story or share something with you that they are 1,000% convinced is true or happened to them. And sometimes it might have. Or you might be equally certain that it did not happen, and that’s fine, but the important thing for your loved one in that moment, is that they believe it to be true and you should support them instead of trying to convince them that they’re wrong. Again, affection might help provide reassurance here and limit frustration and agitation. Give them a hug or just sit and hold their hand and let you know you hear them and understand. 

Better yet, get them talking about their childhood or distant past. Short-term memory is severely impacted in people with dementia and they are either unable to or inaccurately recall events that occurred yesterday or even a half hour ago. Long-term memory is typically pretty solid so stick with questions that tap into that rather than questions like, “What did you have for breakfast this morning?” Try asking questions about their lives when they were younger, like “how did you feel when you had kids?” They will light up and their lucid moments will last for longer.

Music is also helpful, and people with these conditions usually respond really well to music from when they were young. Try humming, singing, or playing music that they are familiar with from their early years.

Treat them with kid gloves

We don’t mean you should patronize or talk down to your loved one, but, in a lot of ways, their behavior does become very child-like. For instance, when your loved one is particularly edgy or aggravated, distract them, much like you would a child. Of course, the ability to reason might be on your side here, so ask your loved one if they’d like to go for a walk, get something to eat, watch TV, or take a stab at a crossword puzzle with you. 

Tread lightly with that last one. If they’re in the more severe stages of their condition, complicated puzzles might lead to even more frustration and agitation. 

Safety first

If the loved one you’re caring for is living with you, take measures to safety-proof your house. Dementia can limit your loved one’s ability to problem-solve and can also impair their judgment. This can lead to an increased potential to injure themselves. It might be a good idea to:

  • Lower the temperature on the hot-water heater
  • Keep a fire extinguisher handy, and keep lighters and matches out of reach or tucked away somewhere safe
  • Limit falling by removing rugs and cords
  • Install handrails in the shower
  • Keep medications, alcohol, dangerous tools, and cleaning supplies locked up

Recognize triggers

When a loved one becomes agitated or starts to act out, they are triggered by something. It’s important for you to figure out what that trigger is, recognize it, and then try a different approach to avoid an outburst happening again. Remember that whatever they are experiencing, is extremely real to them. Trying to talk them out of what they feel is real can just aggravate them and make the problem worse.

Take Care Of Yourself

Taking care of someone who has Alzheimer’s or dementia, or any chronic illness for that matter is no easy task – you need to make sure you are always taking good care of yourself too. It’s easy to burn the candle at both ends, make poor eating choices, let our exercise routine slide, and become exhausted when taking care of someone we love. Doing this leaves us open to a weakened immune system, which really increases our risk of becoming sick and leaving you unable to care for your loved one.  

So please, make sure you are taking time to de-stress, exercise, eat healthy, drink plenty of water, and get plenty of sleep. You might also really benefit from taking a daily multivitamin like Smarter Nutrition’s Multivitamin — it really provides high-quality, plant-based sources of the vitamins and minerals you are most likely to be deficient in, including Vitamin A, B6, B12, D, E, and K as well as essential minerals like zinc, magnesium, and boron. So remember to take care of yourself and take your Smarter Multi every day!

Wrap-Up

Today’s episode was the second in Dr. Nancy’s two-part series about Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Both are conditions that affect the brain and lead to:

  • Memory loss
  • Paranoia
  • Anxiety
  • Difficulty communicating
  • Incontinence
  • Depression
  • Personality and behavior changes

Some things you can do to put your loved one at ease as they progress through the various stages of Alzheimer’s and dementia include:

  • Limit choices to one or two at a time
  • Ask yes or no questions
  • Avoid asking them to recall recent events — stick to more distant memories
  • Recognize triggers that lead to an outburst
  • Establish a daily routine
  • Keep them engaged in their normal routines as long as possible but modify with visual cues
  • Safety-proof your house — or theirs

Really, the most important thing to do when you’re caring for someone who is dealing with Alzheimer’s or dementia, is to show him or her as much compassion, empathy, and love as you possibly can. This will help diffuse most situations and ease feelings of anxiety and paranoia. 

We also encourage you to seek out support so you feel less alone and can understand the help and services available to you and your loved ones. Seek out support groups and organizations specifically tailored toward Alzheimer’s and dementia. There are 11 million Americans dealing with these two conditions combined, so support is out there. Dr. Nancy has been working with seniors for 15 years, helping people with Alzheimer’s and dementia transition from their homes to rehabilitation centers, or to having live-in help. It’s not easy, either for the person with the condition or the caregiver.

So it’s important to have other people help you. Sometimes we feel like it’s our obligation to take care of everything alone, and feel guilty if we need help. It’s crucial to let go of that guilt. Don’t compare yourself to others or the way they’re doing things. Everyone’s experience is different. Hopefully some of these tools will empower you to do this without becoming exhausted.

Remember to take care of yourself, and not take on responsibility for your loved one having a hard day. That’s not because of you, it’s because of their reaction to what they’re suffering. Give both yourself and your loved one compassion, and schedule in time for self-care.

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