Caring for Alzheimer's Seniors: Part 1

Ken Teegardin Written by Ken Teegardin
SeniorLiving.Org Expert on Chief Editor | Caregiver

If you are caring for an Alzheimer's senior, you are one of nearly 15 million. As a family member, spouse, or friend, you as a caregiver are an unpaid individual assisting another with activities that they can't perform on their own.

Caring for Alzheimer’s Seniors: Part 1

These activities range from helping your loved one dress to getting them to their medical appointments. The depth of care depends on how far their Alzheimer's has progressed.

Caring for an Alzheimer's senior is mentally stressful, physically demanding, and time-consuming no matter where you are in life. While it will never be easy, we'll show you some ways to make daily care giving a little smoother.

But first, look at these caregiver numbers.

Alzheimer's Caregiver Numbers
According to the Alzheimer's Association, if you are one of the 15 million providing care to a loved one with Alzheimer's:

  • Your average care giving work week is 21.9 hours
  • You give 1,139 hours of care every year
  • The value of your care is $13,588
  • The total value of care for all providers is $202 billion
  • About 32% of you will be providing care for five or more years
  • Sixty percent of caregivers report high stress levels
  • Thirty-three percent of caregivers report symptoms of depression

Communication
Communicating with your loved one will get progressively harder over time because the disease damages the part of the brain responsible for speech and for understanding written and spoken language.

  • Use simple words and short sentences in a calm tone of voice.
  • Don't, however, talk to them like a baby.
  • Keep distractions (radio, TV, etc.) to a minimum when communicating.
  • Remember their responses may be slow so be careful not to interrupt.
  • Make eye contact and make sure you have their attention before talking.
  • Approach the person from the front and tell them who you are.
  • Avoid arguing, criticizing or correcting.
  • Ask one question at a time.

Activities
Activities, says the Alzheimer's Association, should focus on the person, place, activity and approach.

  • Keep their skills and abilities in mind
  • Pay attention to what they enjoy
  • Encourage exercise like swimming, walking, tennis and gardening
  • Be aware of physical problems
  • Adjust activities to the stages of the disease
  • Focus on enjoyment not achievement
  • Offer support and supervision
  • Be patient, flexible, realistic and relaxed
  • Break activities in simple to follow steps
  • Don't criticize or correct
  • Minimize the distractions
  • Choose a safe place

Eating
Alzheimer's can affect greatly affect eating. They may forget to eat, lose the ability to use utensils, and become overwhelmed with food choices.

  • Limit distractions; serve meals in quiet places (no TV)
  • Maintain meal routines but adapt to changing needs
  • Keep the table free of clutter; only the plate, napkin, drink and utensils
  • Make the plate and napkin contrast with the table so they can distinguish them
  • Make sure food and drink is not too hot
  • Give them plenty of time to eat
  • Encourage them to chew and swallow carefully
  • Prepare foods that are easy to swallow
  • Give them food choices but limit the choices
  • Serve in large bowls with large spoons
  • The person may change food preferences so be flexible

Bathing
Bathing is difficult because it is intimate. And because the person may find it confusing or frightening.

  • Develop a routine; plan for when they are most agreeable
  • Maximize safety with grab bars, non-slip mats, shower bench
  • Never leave them unattended
  • Make sure the bathroom is warm beforehand
  • Tell them what you are going to do before each step; allow them to do as much as they can
  • If giving a bath, draw the water ahead of time

Dressing & Grooming

  • Establish routine. Get them dressed at the same time every day
  • Keep their clothing selections limited with just several outfits. Store the rest in another closet. A full, cluttered closet can frighten them
  • Arrange the clothing in the way they should put it on
  • Choose clothes that are loose fitting
  • Choose fabrics that are soft and stretchy
  • Use Velcro in place of zippers and buttons wherever possible
  • Make sure shoes are comfortable and no-slip
  • Be patient and allow for enough time so you don't have to rush the process
  • Take them to the barber shop and beauty salon if that's what they've always done
  • Show them how to comb their hair, brush their teeth, etc. by watching you

Conclusion
You will face many challenges caring for an Alzheimer's senior. It may be one of the most difficult things you ever do because you're watching your loved one decline mentally and physically. And because you are taking on another job which adds stress to your life.

Simplify as much as possible by following these tips for daily living.

To learn more about this disease, read the "Causes of Alzheimer's" and "An Introduction to Alzheimer's Disease."

Updated: Oct 31, 2011

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