As a caregiver, perhaps one of the most challenging illnesses you may provide care for is Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s disease is an illness of the brain that causes a large amount of the brain’s nerve cells to die, making it extremely difficult for the patient to perform simple daily tasks that they’ve been able to do for years. They may become forgetful or behave oddly, and as the disease progresses, the more prominent these changes become.
While every patient is different and may not experience all of these changes, the National Institute on Aging outlines three of the biggest challenges faced by Alzheimer’s caregivers and how to cope with them.
Changes in Ability to Communicate
One of the most common (and frustrating) challenges faced by Alzheimer’s caregivers is a change in your loved one’s communication skills. This challenge can affect your loved one in many different ways. For example, you could notice your loved one having more difficulty thinking of the right word to say, understanding words’ meanings, paying attention or remembering how to perform common tasks.
How To Cope:
- Be very conscious of your tone and body language. Make eye contact and use their name to get their attention.
- When giving instructions, go slowly and step-by-step. You may have to repeat instructions, but don’t interrupt them – give them time to think and respond.
- Give choices instead of asking open-ended questions. Example: “Do you want a sandwich or salad for lunch?” instead of “What would you like to eat for lunch?”
Changes in Behavior or Personality
Alzheimer’s disease has a direct effect on one’s behavior. Most often, you may notice your loved one getting upset or angry easily, wandering, hiding objects and even hallucinating. It’s important to note, however, that some of these changes may be caused by certain medications and fatigue. You may also notice a lack of self-care, such as not bathing, grooming or changing one’s clothes.
How To Cope:
- To lessen your loved one’s worries, have a daily routine so they know a certain thing will consistently happen at a certain time, and distract them by playing music, dancing or singing.
- If your loved one gets upset or angry, speak calmly. Don’t try to overwhelm them with more than one thing at a time.
- Make your house safe for an Alzheimer’s patient, especially if they wander, pace, or hide items.
Changes in Sexuality or Intimacy
You might be surprised to see this challenge on our list, but it’s not uncommon. This change can affect both you and your loved one and can be especially challenging for those who are caring for a spouse with Alzheimer’s. Your loved one may become depressed, dependent or have low self-esteem, and as a result of this change, you may emotionally or physically distance yourself from your loved one.
How To Cope:
- Remind your loved one that they are loved – by you and others – and that you will keep them safe.
- Remind yourself about the positive aspects of your relationship. Spend time with them in new and different ways than you did before.
- To meet your loved one’s emotional needs, show signs of affection, such as gently touching, hugging or even dancing.
With all of these challenges, frustration is common among caregivers and patients alike, but just remember that these changes are direct causes of the disease, not the person. For more tips, download the National Institute on Aging’s easy-to-use guide Caring for a Person With Alzheimer’s Disease here.