Caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease can be difficult, especially if one enters into their relationship as a caregiver without properly understanding Alzheimer’s disease and its stages. Before caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s, it’s important to communicate with your loved one’s medical team in order to best care for them and represent their complex medical needs.
Knowing the Three Stages of Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s disease is a complex neurodegenerative disease that can begin slowly and steadily worsen over time. The most recognizable warning symptom is difficulty in remembering recent events (short-term memory loss). Alzheimer’s is generally discussed in three main stages: mild, , moderate, and severe. As Alzheimer’s disease worsens over time, symptoms can include language loss, mood swings, disorientation, and sometimes behavioral issues
1. Mild Alzheimer’s Disease
In this first stage, symptoms include memory loss and small changes in their personality. They may forget names of familiar places or loved ones, recent events, or the ability to complete skilled tasks, like planning a budget or making a grocery list.
2. Moderate Alzheimer’s Disease
In this middle stage, symptoms include more severe loss of memory and more noticeable confusion. For example, these patients may have trouble recognizing loved ones, or being able to tell you where they are or what year it is. These patients may have problems in their sleep cycle or with motor skills. Moderate Alzheimer’s patients also have trouble following instruction and may start having problems with incontinence. By this point, their judgment skills break down, and should not be left alone. Personality changes can become angry or violent.
3. Severe Alzheimer’s Disease
In this last stage of Alzheimer’s, Severe patients need full support completing their daily needs. They may not be able to walk or sit up without help. They may not be able to talk and often cannot recognize family members. They may have trouble swallowing and refuse to eat.
Knowing the Challenges of Caring for an Alzheimer’s Patient
When one begins caring for an individual with Alzheimer’s, quality communication becomes vital. The primary caregiver must be able to discuss complex needs with an often-confused patient and relay their issues and concerns to a wide team of medical professionals. With the help of professionals, caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s can be made less difficult, giving the caregiver more time to spend focusing on their loved one’s quality of life.
Verbal communication will become more difficult for Alzheimer’s patients because the neural network is sick. Patients have trouble remembering the correct words and may often forget what they were trying to say. They may feel impatient with this barrier in communication, and may look to their care giver for cues. Be sensitive to their senses: touch and tone and loudness of voice can irritate a patient.
If your loved one is having trouble understanding once-familiar concepts or finding the right word when speaking, encourage two-way communication that focuses on their needs instead of their forgetfulness. If your loved one experiences issues completing household chores or in completing steps in their usual activities, start with making eye contact and calling your loved one by name. Give them labels for important places in the household and use nonverbal cues to help guide them toward the correct options.
Setting and following a schedule can help an Alzheimer’s patient manage their stress. The comforts of routine become more important for the patient, making their day more predictable, stable, and less-confusing. Create limited options for your loved one, for example laying out two options for their outfit in the morning instead of leading them to a full closet, or offering them two dining options instead of reading them a full menu.
By better understanding the natural temperament of the patient, a care giver can distinguish when the patient is more calm or agitated. Scheduling doctor’s appointments during the same days of the week or at the same times can help mitigate confusion. Following a morning or evening hygiene routine also provides a level of consistency for your loved one.
3. Coping with Change
Perhaps the most difficult part of dealing with Alzheimer’s disease is coping with the changes: both from the patient’s perspective, and from how a primary caregiver sees change in their loved ones. This disease is degenerative, and most patients have good days and bad days, just like the rest of the population. These changes in behavior may be due to emotional difficulties, health issues, or problems in their environment. Your loved one may have trouble sleeping or with emotional issues, like anger, sadness, or paranoia.
It is important that the caregiver avoids anger or frustration. Sometimes, you have to step back, practice meditative breathing, or even leave the room for a few moments. Focus on how the patient is feeling and provide emotion-focused support. Remove dangerous items from easy access.
A caregiver cannot do everything. There are times where an untrained person cannot cope with Alzheimer’s disease on their own. Consider help options from family members or trusted friends. Respite care options, adult care centers, hospitals, and other care centers can provide spaces to ease the burden of a care giver and the Alzheimer’s patient.