Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is on the rise. All forms, from classic to late onset to young onset (which has seen an 83% increase between 2013 and 2017), drain family resources, energy and, all too often, joy.
At this time, there is no meaningful treatment for AD. There are, however, any number of interventions that assist caregivers for the persons living with AD (PLwAD) with maintaining a peaceful atmosphere that fosters the sense of well-being for both the person and the caregiver. The voyage isn’t without rough waters, but it can be a voyage that brings joy and hopefulness to all involved.
Working with a PLwAD is a complex situation that cannot be fully addressed in one article. Highlights of maintaining that crucial peacefulness include understanding that this is a progressive disease. What’s happening today will change – maybe as early as tomorrow. What works today to help the person be successful and feel secure will change over time. Interventions that are attempted should not be given up on too soon. Keep trying, gently and with small adjustments to your approach.
There are several key highlights for maintaining a serene atmosphere. This includes communication, understanding how to identify and reduce anxiety, providing purposeful tasks and activities, and having a skilled team of professionals who the caregiver can call on for help.
Never argue with the PLwAD. It will do no good and almost always results in escalation of anxiety and confusion. Step into the person’s version of reality and work to understand their concerns.
Often, the PLwAD will think the caregiver has taken something of theirs. If you thought someone stole your wallet, you would be upset, too! Acknowledge that and offer to help look for it. Consider having duplicates or triplicates of the exact same item that seems to get lost. Instilling a routine can help, too. Always place wallets and other items (shoes, bags, etc.) in the same place.
Reassure, don’t lecture. Talk about what the person does remember instead of “reminding.” Anxiety fuels the confusion that is always present in PLwAD, so speak in a way that eases the anxiety. The PLwAD will use the language in the way they understand it. Speak clearly and simply, using a tone of voice that is kind.
As the PLwAD’s brain changes, their abilities will change, and they will need more help to accomplish the daily tasks of living. Lay out clothing, talk the person through a task, understand when a given task is too complicated and break it down into simpler steps.
Caregivers are at real risk for developing illnesses themselves. As many as 60% of caregivers end up dying before the person they care for. Remember to take time for yourself every single day. Get enough sleep, exercise and eat a plant-laden, nutrient-dense diet. Care for yourself as carefully as you do your person.
Alzheimer’s disease is a complex voyage that cannot and should not be navigated alone.