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5 Caregiving Tips for Alzheimer’s Patients

1. Provide a safe and secure environment

Make safety a top priority. As the disease progresses, Alzheimer’s patients risk falling, wandering and becoming easily confused and agitated.

Provide calm and peaceful surroundings, says Joanne Koenig Coste, author of “Learning to Speak Alzheimer’s” (Mariner Books, 2004). It’s the idea of making life as comfortable and pleasant as possible for patient and caregiver, rather than resisting what is happening or fretting over things you cannot control.

Enter their world and join the patients there. Rearrange homes and furnishings to meet special needs and accommodate the person with Alzheimer’s. Give them what they want, within reason.

Simplify the environment for the patient. Remove trip hazards, sharp objects and clutter. Protect the car keys if they should no longer drive. Lock doors to the basement, cabinets or other unsafe areas.

2. Learn to advocate, communicate and speak Alzheimer’s

Caregivers must become an advocate for their loved one, assemble a solid medical team and educate themselves on the disease. This includes what to expect as it progresses, what is normal and how to communicate with the patient. It helps to gain perspective on what it’s like for the person with the disease. Keep a list of symptoms as they present or get worse. Find out the best ways to manage them. Change diet and create ways to avoid triggers if necessary.

Beyond a good neurologist, your care approach should cover social, emotional, behavioral and psychological aspects of the illness, says Laura Wayman, author of “A Loving Approach to Dementia Care” (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011).

There is so much more to care than medicine and physical support, Wayman says. She suggests reading books, attending support groups and connecting with others who can validate your experiences and feelings.

3. Create routines and plan pleasant activities

Alzheimer’s patients respond well to structure, mixed with relaxation and enjoyable activities, says Ruth Drew, director of client and information services at the Alzheimer’s Association.

Establish regular routines: Wake-up and bed times, meals and daily naps. Take them for a walk or to sit outside in nice weather. Let them do art or a relaxing hobby. Capitalize on their remaining skills.

“Try to fill the day with a blend of pleasant activities that are predictable,” Drew says. “It’s easier to care for someone who is happy and content.”

Coste’s book offers caregivers techniques to help patients compensate for cognitive and sensory losses. Physical exercise, snacks and chores can help reduce difficult behaviors and promote a good night’s sleep. Directions for simple activities, recipes for nutritious “finger foods,” and tips for hiring home caregivers are included.

4. Meet them where they are

Practice empathy and patience – over and over again. Remember the patient cannot control what is happening to his or her brain. Make an effort to understand what life must be like for the memory-impaired.

“Accept them without judgment,” Drew says. “Their brain has changed. Try not to belittle them.”

5. Take regular breaks

Caring for someone with Alzheimer’s is like taking care of a big kid. Just like parents, caregivers need help, support and time away.

Go with the flow when possible. Take a time-out if frustrated. Learn to detach and not take their behavior personally.

Taking regular breaks isn’t being selfish; it’s about self-preservation.

Ask other relatives to help pay for care, if necessary. Reach out to church friends and others going through a similar situation. Find an adult-day program or regular respite care. Find ways to renew the mind, body and spirit. Make time to laugh. Listen to music. Prioritize your own health, hobbies and happiness. Practice regular stress-management and self-care routines.

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