How to take care of Alzheimer patients at home?
Alzheimer vs. DementiaDementia refers to a decline in mental and cognitive abilities that impair one’s daily life. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type (60-80%) of dementia. It is a progressive nervous system disorder in which the neurons (the cells of the brain cells) are gradually destroyed, and thus, a person’s behavior, thoughts, and emotions are affected.Once damaged, Neurons cannot be repaired, or damaged neurons cannot be replaced, as neurons do not divide. Thus, there is a progressive worsening of memory, ability to concentrate, among others.Care of patients with Alzheimer’s by family members, friends, and medical support staff can be challenging. Since there is no definitive treatment for dementia, palliative care remains the mainstay of therapy along with some drugs (rivastigmine, galantamine, and donepezil), which act by increasing some other neurotransmitters in the brain. Thus, caring for patients with Alzheimer’s makes a huge difference in their lives.Many of the caregivers feel overwhelmed over a while as they see the person deteriorating further in cognitive, behavioral, physical, and functional abilities. It may lead to neglect of one’s health in place of patient care and put one at an increased risk of stress, burnout, anxiety, loneliness, and depression.Several strategies help the caregiver cope with dementia care while making the caregiving journey meaningful and less challenging.
Alzheimer Stages: Understanding the diseaseAs mentioned above, Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease. There are 3 broad stages in the course of the disease: mild, moderate, and severe. The care required thus varies upon the stage in which the person is.Mild Alzheimer’s: Patients with mild or early-stage Alzheimer’s disease can still have independent functioning in their daily life. Difficulty in remembering recent events, concentrating, and problem-solving are some of the earliest signs of neurocognitive decline in Alzheimer’s disease.Moderate Alzheimer’s: It is associated with significant loss of memory, a state of confusion, and the following physical symptoms:Difficulty in recognizing family members, close friends, and relatives; impaired co-ordination while performing daily tasks; restlessness and insomnia; urinary and fecal incontinence; and some personality changes.Severe Alzheimer’s: It is the last stage of Alzheimer’s. People cannot carry out independent daily living activities such as dressing up, walking from one point to another, and having a meal.They lose their awareness of the environment and cannot converse, recognize close family members, and lose time, place, and personal orientation.
Common do’s and don’tCreating a Routine:A daily routine with a plan of activities to help patients with Alzheimer’s to feel comfortable and adapt to their surroundings. Thus, maintaining a routine gives a sense of continuity to the patients and the caregiver as well.Any changes, such as the change of caregiver or change of setting, should gradually adjust to the new environment and at his own pace.
Planning Activities:The person with Alzheimer’s must be kept engaged in some work to slow the cognitive decline. Activities help to reinforce the neuronal circuitry in the brain and thus, promote memory retention.These include:
- Listening to music and watching light-hearted movies/shows,
- regular exercising, such as walking, stretching exercises, playing board games,
- engaging in hobbies like gardening, cooking, stitching, etc.
- Maintaining eye contact while speaking.
- Addressing the patient by his name
- Assuming a welcoming and relaxed posture
- Trying to be calm and not frustrated while conversing.
- Avoiding a breakdown in front of the patient
Boosting Self- Image in Alzheimer’s DiseasePersons with Alzheimer’s should not lose touch with their selves. Thus, being comfortable with themselves is one of the first steps towards their self-confidence.Caregivers can promote that by encouraging them, supporting them, and helping them with their hygiene and grooming activities. Some activities include:
- Eating together at the same time.
- Helping them comb on their hair while making your hair
- Allowing them extra time for dressing up and makeup (if they use one)
- Buying accessories with velcro’s or zippers instead of buttons.
- Blunting or padding sharp corners
- Giving them soft yet sturdy shoes
- Putting markers across the floor, in the form of fluorescent tapes, if they venture out at night.
- Sticking “hot” and “cold” signs near taps
- Ensuring timely medications through reminders or apps
- Preventing burn injuries by installing safety locks on stoves
- Keeping matches and lighters out of reach. If the person with dementia smokes, one must always supervise smoking and ensure that fire extinguisher are accessible in worst-case scenarios.
- Avoiding activities like driving in moderate disease as it poses a health risk to the patient and society, or ensuring that they have someone to help them out.
Caring for self in AlzheimerTaking care of a loved one with Alzheimer’s is both a humbling and noble experience, which may, at times, be overwhelming. It may affect the ability of the person to socialize and work out his commitments.Besides, it is important to take care of one’s physical and mental social wellbeing while caring for others at the same time. Also, one cannot take care of others if they are unfit or in a disturbed state of mind.
Some of the following tips may help in reducing the stress the burnout while at the same time promoting self-love and compassion.Sharing one’s feelings: It is natural to avoid talking about a loved one’s illness to one’s friends or family. However, talking your heart-out about fears, apprehensions, and frustrations helps relieve the tension and provides an outlet. One may also join a support group or ask for a counselor’s support if feeling worse.Getting enough sleep: A sound sleep of 7-9 hours each night goes a long way in promoting freshness and enthusiasm every day one wakes up.Being active:A good 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise daily (150 minutes a week) promotes endorphins release (the feel happy substances). It promotes overall wellbeing and helps improve sleep as well.Being gentle to oneself:Often the caregivers are hard on themselves and blame themselves, whether for feeling miserable or the misplaced idea that they are not doing enough for their loved ones. It may lead to a vicious cycle of anger, frustration, and helplessness. But it is important to remain calm in the face of adversity. Well, one can’t change the circumstances, but one can surely change one’s response to one’s circumstances!Deciding upon professional help:Alzheimer’s patients may require professional help if they need full-time assistance with daily and personal activities such as bathing, moving, or feeding.Any injury which makes the patient bed-ridden or any cerebral accidents which make the person perpetually agitated or make him wander also warrants professional help. Eventually, it is up to the family members and the caregiver to decide upon the timing of asking for professional help.
Conclusion:In conclusion, the care of people with Alzheimer’s is both science and art. The caregivers may experience a gamut of positive and, at times, negative emotions. It is important to focus on the positive aspects while coping up with the negative stressors.Besides the ways mentioned above, caregivers should take the help of both family members and professional personnel to monitor the patient’s progress.Self-love and self-care for caregivers are essential. It goes a long way in preventing adverse health outcomes. Exercise, self-compassion, meditation, and controlling one’s emotional impulses are some of the ways by which they can help themselves.
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