Alzheimer’s disease affects the brain impacting memory, thinking, personality, emotions, behavior and the ability to care for oneself. Being a caregiver to a loved one diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease can be rewarding yet demanding and feelings of anger, guilt, stress, discouragement, worry, grief and social isolation are normal. At Banner Health, we offer hope and help in a time of uncertainty through our three memory care centers of excellence. These specialty locations are equipped with a team of multidisciplinary experts to help you and your loved one navigate through the different stages of Alzheimer’s. It’s important to know what to expect and how best to help, as each stage will require different levels of care.
Caregiver Role During Early-stage Alzheimer’s Disease
During early-stage Alzheimer's, your loved one is coming to terms with their diagnosis and may be experiencing a wide range of emotions, including fear, denial and depression. It’s important to support their independence and recognize everything they’re still capable of while providing assistance when needed. Follow these steps to support your loved one’s sense of wellbeing and continued ability to function:
- Decision-making: Empower your loved one to voice their wishes and desires and make decisions about the future together, including financial and legal planning, implementing advanced directives and creating a short- and long-term care plan. Having these conversations now allows you time to prepare and gather the necessary information and be thoughtful in the decision-making process. The compassionate support staff at Banner Health can provide you with resources to help make an informed and thoughtful decision about long-term care.
- Healthy lifestyle: Work together to create a balanced lifestyle that includes healthy eating, regular exercise, social activity, quality sleep and other lifestyle activities that promote goals, purpose, familiarity and happiness. The activities will most likely need to be modified as the disease progresses.
- Helpful cues and reminders: Label drawers, cabinets and closets to identify what is in them. Sticky notes are useful for reminders and you can set timers to remind your loved one about laundry or when a meal is ready.
- Home environment: Make the home safe and familiar by:
- Keeping your loved one’s keys, wallet, mobile phone and other valuables in the same location at home.
- Storing medications in a secure location. Keep track of dosages with a daily checklist.
- Installing alarm sensors on doors and windows.
- Removing excess furniture and clutter.
- Installing sturdy handrails on stairways and in bathrooms.
- Limiting the number of mirrors in your loved one’s home. Those diagnosed with Alzheimer's may find images in mirrors confusing or frightening.
- Keeping photographs and other meaningful objects around the house.
- Finances: Arrange for finances to be on automatic payment and automatic deposit.
- Mobile phone: Provide your loved one with a mobile phone with location services turned on. Store important phone numbers in the phone.
- Appointment scheduling: Ensure your loved one’s recurring appointments are scheduled at the same time and day of the week. A calendar or whiteboard is helpful for tracking daily schedules.
- Clothing: Ensure your loved one’s shoes and slippers are comfortable, non-slip and provide good traction.
- Identification: Ensure your loved one carries identification or wears a medical alert bracelet.
Additional Guidelines and Tips for Caregivers
To provide the best support for your loved one, follow these additional guidelines:
- Preserve independence where possible: Before taking over a task, ask yourself if there is an immediate safety risk if your loved one were to perform this task alone. If there is no risk, offer encouraging words and supervise them as needed. Assume your loved one is capable of completing the task before intervening. If they become frustrated, first try identifying the cause of their frustration before intervening.
- Avoid stress: Try to avoid tasks that cause unnecessary stress for your loved one. For example, if you know that grocery shopping will cause stress or frustration for your loved one, adjust their participation role and ask for their help in other ways, such as creating the weekly menu and organizing the shopping list.
- Be open and direct: Sometimes the best way to determine if your loved one needs help is to ask them directly. Have an open talk about the activities you can do together and those that are most likely to cause your loved one frustration or require additional support.
As Alzheimer’s disease progresses, the type and extent of caregiver support required will change. Learn about caring for your loved one with middle-stage Alzheimer’s disease and late-stage Alzheimer’s disease.
Find additional caregiver resources, including Alzheimer’s education, support groups and CARE T.I.P.S to learn strategies for various scenarios.