College of DuPage Nursing Student Erin G. Hanrahan shared with Healthy Lombard that Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “We cannot do kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.” If you have a loved one or know of someone with Alzheimer’s Disease, you most likely have experienced the toll it takes on you and that individual, emotionally, physically, and possibly economically. Dementia is an umbrella term and is defined as the generalized impairment of intellectual functioning that interferes with social and occupational ability. Alzheimer’s Disease falls under this umbrella. Unfortunately, this disease is not a normal part of aging. However, there are ways to cope with the stresses that Alzheimer’s tends to cause and ways to promote your loved one’s optimal health and wellbeing.
When an individual is told that they have Alzheimer’s they may feel embarrassed, angry, saddened, fearful, in denial, and even relief. It is important to recognize, listen to, and understand these feelings as normal. There are some ways to help the individual who is affected by this disease cope with these new feelings. For example, if they have a difficult time completing simple, familiar tasks like doing their laundry, it will be helpful for you to assist them. You can help re-familiarize them with each step, but start off by asking them, “Hey, can you please separate your clothes into colors and whites?” When they complete this task, they will feel useful and happy to help you.
As Alzheimer’s Disease advances in an individual, the need to care for that person may increase suddenly and significantly. The individual may forget how to use the bathroom and even forget when they need “to go” altogether. If an individual is experiencing bouts of incontinence (lack of control of their bladder or bowels), it is best to provide them with adult briefs and encourage or implement certain times when using the bathroom is appropriate. It is essential to provide dignity and quality of life if incontinence is a new normal for that person. First, this can be accomplished by simply calling the adult briefs, “adult briefs” and not “diapers.” Second, it is crucial to attempt to keep when possible the skin dry to prevent skin breakdown, infections, and loss of dignity. The person may also forget how to dress. If this occurs, a family member or caregiver can provide them with options, such as simply holding up two different shirts and asking which they would like to wear on that particular day. Providing options gives the individual a sense of control and helps to avoid frustration and confusion.
An individual with Alzheimer’s disease has an increased risk for accidents like falling, as well as an increased risk for poor nutrition. Ways to promote safety and prevent falls include removing items in the home that pose a risk for accidents. To name a few examples of high-risk items, loose rugs, poor lighting, especially in bathrooms, or slippery showers. A shower chair may help to avoid fatigue and gripped shower mats prevent slipping when standing. The addition of a thin alarm pad may also fit nicely under bedsheets so when an individual gets out of bed an alarm will sound to notify a caregiver that the individual is wanting to walk about. Some individuals with Alzheimer’s disease have difficulty remembering when or what to eat and drink throughout their day. This can severely impair their mental status, physicality, and hydration. Providing options in this area is helpful as well. Ask whether the individual would like cereal or eggs for breakfast, for example. Placing notes and reminders on the fridge can also be valuable. Remind them of the benefits of drinking plenty of water while acknowledging that you understand it may be difficult for them; ensuring adequate nutrition and exercise is extremely beneficial to prevent further health issues.
When Alzheimer’s disease advances to the later stages, an individual’s memory can severely diminish. The person may no longer remember how to do much of anything on their own. They might forget where they are or who is sitting in front of them; even if the person in front of them is a family member. While the individual’s confusion may frustrate and anger those they love, it is unintentional and for them, it is their reality. The false scenarios and stories they may bring up, are real to them and do not warrant correction, rather, an opportunity to simply listen with open ears. Promoting mental and emotional health may simply involve agreeing with them and going along with their ideas, stories, or scenarios. Listening is especially important and makes them feel appreciated, listened to, and loved. Although, it is important to recognize when these behaviors become harmful to them and need intervention. There are many ways we can support and promote the health of loved ones, but it may require knowing in advance that it requires, patience, motivation, and dedication to helping them maintain a state of optimal health and wellness.