By Dr. Vishakhadatta Mathur Kumaraswamy, Consultant Neurology, Columbia Asia Hospital Sarjapur Road
Those who have a loved one suffering from Alzheimer's in the family or in the friend circle know how difficult it is to care for them. For those who do not know, Alzheimer disease (AD) also commonly called as the Alzheimer's, is a chronic neurodegenerative disease. The disease which starts slowly with a mild memory loss gradually worsens over time with the degeneration of the brain cells. It reaches a stage where communication and decision-making skills of the person get impaired.
It is not easy to watch a family member’s physical and functional abilities dwindling in front of us every day. The demanding process of caring for a person with Alzheimer's disease can sometimes even push the caregivers into depression. Every day brings new challenges making the caregiver experience hectic and stressful.
But with the following tips, you can turn the challenging caregiving journey into a rewarding experience.
Involve the Patient: Although people with Alzheimer's suffer from brain degeneration and they cannot do their routine activities like before, it doesn't mean that they cannot be involved in any activity at all. Allow the patient to do as much work as they can safely, without assistance. For example, keep their clothes on the dressing table, encourage them to pick the ones they like and dress on their own. If there is some activity which the patient enjoys doing, encourage them to do it often.
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Ensure the Environment is Safe: As the years pass, problem-solving skills and judgement of the person with Alzheimer’s may become impaired. We need to be extra cautious in keeping potentially dangerous objects like knives, scissors, needles, medicines, alcohol, toxic cleaning substances, lighter, match sticks, etc., out of reach of the patient. Also, to prevent the patient from falling, keep the room clutter-free, and install handrails and grab bars wherever necessary in the house.
Be Flexible and Offer Choices: Resistance to suggestions and instructions is common among Alzheimer's patients. We shouldn't force the patient to do something they dislike, and end up triggering our own frustration in the process. For example, if the patient is not willing to take a bath every day, then consider giving them a bath on alternate days. When we offer choices to the patient, they feel more involved in their daily life. Ask them if they want to go for a walk or prefer to sit in the park. Before preparing food, ask for their suggestions, for instance whether they want to have chapatis or rice. Also make sure that you do not flood him/her with too many choices. It is generally better not to offer more than two choices in most situations.
One-step communication: Those who have communicated with the Alzheimer's patients know how challenging it is. At the same time, it can be easier if we consistently follow certain steps in communication. Establish eye contact and give clear one-step communication. This helps them to understand the instruction, process it and then respond accordingly.
Having Patience: If there is one quality which needs to be constantly nurtured throughout the caregiving journey, it is none other than patience. As the progression of the disease picks up pace, the daily tasks of the caregiver will continue growing. Those tasks which were simple for the person with Alzheimer's earlier, may become increasingly difficult. This will also agitate the caregiver. Therefore, it's better to anticipate that daily tasks will not only keep on changing, but take a longer time to be completed. By being little more patient you can do wonders in caring for someone who has Alzheimer's disease.
These above tips might look simple to you initially. But when you start implementing these tips, you will realize their importance. It is certain to bring about a big change in the long run and help you care for someone with Alzheimer's disease effectively.