by Daniel Domer
If you have a loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia, you know that conversation and other daily activities can be a challenge. Some days are better than others, but life is simply different. Recognizing that and making adjustments will make the road ahead smoother for both of you.
If you’re the caregiver, this is doubly important. Even if you’re just a friend or relative around for a visit, there are some things to keep in mind.
In the early stages of Alzheimer’s your loved one can still manage many of their daily activities by themselves or with just a little help. In fact, this stage is a bit tricky because they will sometimes feel as though they are completely capable of doing everything and may resent help. Offer suggestions rather than commands. Guide but don’t ridicule. Consider what matters. It’s important to dress appropriately for the weather – no shorts in January or down jackets in July. But is it really a big deal if they pair red stripes with orange polka dots to wear around the house? Probably not.
In the moderate to advanced stages of the disease, the person may not be able to follow directions and will need physical help to accomplish the tasks. Eventually the caregiver will need to get them dress, brush their teeth, etc. Unfortunately, about the time that helps is needed; many Alzheimer’s patients become combative. Try to stay in good spirits and keep an open mind. They're not fighting you. They just want to do something, but don’t know what it is. That can make a person feel a great deal of stress and agitation.
Alzheimer’s patients at every level will do best with as much routine as possible. The world is easier to navigate when breakfast, lunch and dinner is at the same time daily. If they know what is about to happen, it gives them as sense of comfort. Many people with Alzheimer’s (depending on the stage of the disease) will be unaware of dates and time of day. Seasons are also soon forgotten. These larger units don’t matter as much, however, as knowing that every day after lunch is activity time.
Also, you may soon notice that there are certain times of day that your loved one functions best. Are they sleepy and sluggish early in the morning or at their most alert? Many Alzheimer’s patients experience sundowner’s syndrome around dinnertime. You may see more wandering, confusion, restlessness and even hallucinations. While this is very normal for those with Alzheimer’s, it can be distressing for loved ones. If you’re a caregiver, avoid planning activities or tasks for them at this time of day. If you’re a friend or family member plan to visit earlier in the day if possible.
The more you can stick with routine the better, but when confronted with something out of the ordinary (whether from your loved one or the outside world) the more you can stay calm and roll with the punches, the better the results for both of you.