Dementia is a general term encompassing a group of symptoms that affect daily life. It is caused by a progressive degeneration in brain cells that impairs ability to communicate, reasoning, or other thinking skills. This can cause changes in behavior and thinking.
While dementia is a general term for decline in mental ability, Alzheimer’s disease describes a specific disease that accounts for 60-80% of dementia cases.
Though aging is the biggest risk factor for Alzheimer’s and dementia, it is not a normal part of aging. Caring for those with Alzheimer’s often involves challenges that require patience and flexibility. Learning how to respond to changes in communication and behaviors can help benefit both the patient and the caregiver. The caregiver can play a pivotal role in helping to decrease the chronic stress that comes with seeing a loved one slowly decline.
Early-Stage Caregiving (Mild)
Common difficulties in the early stages of Alzheimer’s may include forgetting familiar words, difficulty concentrating, losing objects, increased trouble planning or organizing, forgetting recent events and details, and having difficulty performing tasks in social or work settings.
Most people in the early stages are able to function independently, and this stage may last for years. They may continue participating in professional and social activities, and participate in their own self-care. It’s therefore important for the caregiver in the early stages to maintain independence of your loved one by providing companionship and support, and planning for the future.
Your role as a caregiver for those who have mild Alzheimer’s may be to help them come to terms with their diagnosis, plan for the future, and maintain independence by staying as active, healthy, and as engaged as possible. Here are some aspects of caregiving for those in the early stages of Alzheimer’s:
· Emotional support
· Mental engagement
· Participating in financial and end-of-life decisions
· Helping to organize the home
· Appointment and medication reminders
· Prompting for remembering words or names
· Encouraging exercise, healthy foods, and sufficient sleep
· Educate yourself on stages of your loved one’s dementia
· Encourage social interaction
Middle-Stage Caregiving (Moderate)
During the middle-stage of Alzheimer’s, symptoms may worsen to include significant memory loss, confusion, and physical symptoms. Those at this stage may exhibit symptoms such as difficult behaviors, personality changes, wandering or getting lost, bladder and bowel incontinence, trouble performing daily tasks such as bathing and dressing, progressive memory loss, and changes in sleep patterns.
A caregiver’s role may expand during the middle stage of Alzheimer’s, as the person with the disease may require a greater level of care. While a person with moderate Alzheimer’s may still be able to participate in daily activities with assistance, safety will become a priority. Here are some aspects of caregiving for those with moderate Alzheimer’s:
· Create a safe and comfortable environment
· Assist with daily activities
· Create a routine and plan activities
· Consult medical care
· Assistance in bathing and dressing
· Consider respite care
· Enlist emotional support for the caregiver and the patient
· Continue planning for the future
Late-Stage Caregiving (Severe)
In late-stage Alzheimer’s, symptoms of dementia become severe, and usually require 24-hour care. Requiring total support for routine activities may require enlisting the help of other facilities with a higher level of care.
Individuals with severe Alzheimer’s may lose the ability to respond to their environment and experience significant personality changes. Other symptoms may include loss of ability to hold a conversation, mobility issues, losing ability to recognize people, difficulty eating and swallowing, loss of awareness of recent experiences and surroundings, impaired communication, and increased vulnerability to infections.
Here are some aspects of caregiving for those in the late stages of Alzheimer’s:
· Enlist help for basic activities such as sitting up, walking, and eating
· Engage your loved one’s senses by playing their favorite music, brushing their hair, using scented lotion on their skin, reading a meaningful book or poem, or looking at old photos together
· Provide reassurance through gentle touch
· Sit outside together on a nice day
· Use support services such as palliative and hospice care
· Consider placement to a skilled nursing facility or dementia care facility
· Manage painful feelings of grief and loss as well as end-of-life decisions
Being educated on the various stages of dementia may help to cope with your loved one’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis and help to effectively deal with their care. While focusing on your loved one’s needs throughout the progression of their disease, it’s also important to avoid neglecting your own welfare.
Happier at Home can provide respite care and other care options (read more here) while keeping your loved one safe and maintaining quality of life.