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I have had the opportunity to work with many families over the years who are caring for a loved one who is suffering from Alzheimer’s or a cognition related disease. I tell families that this disease is hardest on the caregivers and the families who are caring for that person. I am lucky to work for an agency that takes pride in educating our staff to be better caregivers to this population but to also be educators and a support to families struggling with this disease. We just recently re-certified our staff in the C&V Senior Care Specialist’s Alzheimer’s Whisperer program. This program offers insight to this disease and approaches to be successful in caring for someone with Alzheimer’s.

First you need to understand the person’s world, by putting yourself in their reality. I often hear caregivers or family members correcting a person such as “yes, you are my mother” or “mom, you are home”. I also hear people say “mom, why don’t you remember that; it was just a few minutes ago”. These types of corrections and questions create frustration, agitation, and even fear. You have to think about how scary it would be to not understand the world you are in and possibly not recognize the people around you anymore. Then you have someone correcting you and drilling you on why you don’t remember. This really is a recipe for disaster when caring for someone who has cognitive impairment.  

You need to learn to be fun-loving and silly. Have a go-with-the-flow attitude and avoid a rigid routine.  You also have to learn to not always be up front and honest. If your loved one is headed for the door because it is time for work and they are running late, and you know this is not true, you can always use redirection with small fibs to avoid confrontation and confusion.  

Take the time to know a person’s history. Learn about their childhood and remember the important details, like holiday traditions and hobbies they enjoyed. These details can help you figure out behaviors and also help with diversions. If your loved one still thinks they are young and working, don’t try and correct them but try and adapt to their environment and your approach to that time in their life.  

Knowledge is a real gift for caregivers dealing with these stages of the disease. Studies show that there are various stages of Alzheimer’s Disease. Take time to read relevant information, and once you understand the disease you are more likely to handle situations with a loving and caring approach. If families and caregivers take the time to learn about this process, it makes it much easier for families and caregivers to recognize that the person is not purposely being difficult, and being frustrated at them will only create more aggravation for you and for them. A person in each stage of the disease has abilities and disabilities. You need to know what their abilities are and tailor tasks and activities around what they are still able to do. You also need to understand the disabilities so that you are not having unrealistic expectations for what the person can or cannot do.  

Don’t be afraid to reach out to support groups, including agencies and associations who are specifically trained to assist the caregiver and their family in dementia care. A caregiver is not any good to the person they are caring for, if they are exhausted and overwhelmed.  You need a break from this disease and a support system that allows you to be honest about the emotional roller coaster that comes when caring for a loved one with dementia.

Let Western Illinois Home Health Care be your support. We have a specialized program to meet the needs of people and families dealing with Alzheimer’s Disease and related dementias. Our staff are experienced and trained. We can help develop a care plan to allow you to keep your loved one at home and also give you a break. If you or someone you know are in need of this service, call 1-800-228-5993.

Amanda Powell, BSW is a Senior Care Manager for Western Illinois Home Health Care.  

Caring Strategies for Someone Suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease

November 2014

by Amanda Powell

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