Today, over 6 million Americans live with Alzheimer’s disease, and that number is expected to reach 13 million by 2050. 1 in 9 people over the age of 65 has Alzheimer’s, and a majority of those affected are women.
While Alzheimer’s disease is very common, it is not a regular part of the aging process.
What Is Alzheimer’s?
Alzheimer’s is a common form of dementia that destroys brain cells and reduces cognitive function. It often starts with mild memory loss and leads progressively to the inability to respond to the environment or carry out activities of daily living.
This can be frustrating and scary for both the person experiencing the cognitive decline as well as for their family members who want to help.
The Stages of Alzheimer’s Disease
As Alzheimer’s progresses, the brain shrinks as brain cells die. The disease consists of three stages - mild, moderate, and severe.
The early, mild stage of Alzheimer’s may look like occasional gaps in memory, causing someone to repeat themselves, misplace items, get lost in familiar places, and struggle to find the words they want to use. While concentration and memory can be a challenge, someone in the early stages of Alzheimer's can still function independently and participate in social gatherings.
By its latest and most severe stage, the disease prevents people from engaging in conversation and carrying out basic daily activities. People living with severe Alzheimer’s disease may require assistance with sitting up, walking, and eating and often have difficulty chewing and swallowing.
How to Care for Someone with Alzheimer's Disease
83% of caregivers in the United States are family members or friends, and nearly half of all unpaid caregivers for older adults are providing care for someone living with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia.
These tips will help you provide the best possible care for someone living with Alzheimer’s.
Stick to a Routine
One of the most important things you can do to provide comfort and security for the person in your care is to create an established daily routine.
As much as possible, base your plan on how your loved one previously structured their day, leaving room for their likes and dislikes, household duties, mealtimes, and personal energy levels throughout the day.
A good daily routine will have a balance of productive activities to keep them stimulated, provide them with a sense of structure and familiarity, and have enough time for rest and visiting with others.
Keep Them Comfortable
Having difficulty communicating, remembering, or performing tasks can sometimes cause people with Alzheimer’s to become angry or act unpredictably. While it’s challenging to see someone you love experience these emotions, remaining calm and patient will help them feel safer.
You can also help them feel more comfortable by keeping family photos around the house, consistently communicating with them about what’s going on, letting them continue to do the activities that they are capable of doing, and listening to their frustrations.
Keep Them Engaged
Staying busy can serve as a sense of joy for someone living with Alzheimer’s. Engaging activities also promote brain health and help keep those in your care from becoming agitated.
Keeping them active may look like listening to music, doing a puzzle, going for daily walks, visiting friends and family, and playing games.
Human beings need a social connection to thrive, but the expression of thoughts and emotions is often challenging for those with Alzheimer’s disease.
Promote two-way conversations with your loved one as much as possible, and always use eye contact and reassuring body language. You can use gentle reminders if they are struggling to remember something but avoid oversimplifying or asking them if they remember.
Keep Them Healthy
A balanced diet and hydration are important parts of a healthy lifestyle and making sure your loved one is getting the nutrition they need will improve their quality of life.
Problems with eating and drinking are common for people with Alzheimer’s disease, especially if they are given unfamiliar food or are being presented with a meal at a different time of day.
If you are having difficulty encouraging them to eat at all, focus on respecting their preferences so that they can maintain a healthy weight.
If you are among the 11 million Americans providing care for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease, you know how challenging it can be.
It is perfectly normal for the weight of caregiving to be a challenge, and that is nothing to feel guilty about. While your inclination may be to put your own needs last and hold yourself to unrealistic expectations, try to remember that taking care of yourself is equally as important and will allow you to give better care to those you love.
If you are experiencing negative health effects from the stress of caregiving, or if your loved one’s Alzheimer’s has progressed to the point that they need assistance with physically demanding tasks, it may be time to consider the help of a professional caregiver.
At HomeSpark, our certified caregivers are here to compassionately provide the additional support your family needs. We will take the time to get to know the individual in need of care and formulate a personalized care plan to fit their needs.
Talk to our HomeSpark team today to learn more about caring for a family member with Alzheimer’s disease.