Dealing with Alzheimer's

Alzheimer's disease (AD) is a neurodegenerative disease that slowly destroys cognitive abilities. An individual with Alzheimer’s may gradually lose the ability to communicate, make decisions or perform daily activities. They might experience memory loss, abnormal behavior, a change in personality and an increase of anxiety and dementia. If you're caring for a person with AD, here are steps you can take to minimize stress and maximize comfort:

Understand the disease and stages of progression. Understanding the disease if the first step to living with someone with AD and making each other’s lives comfortable. If you understand what is happening with them, you understand how to react and respond to different situation more effectively. Although there is currently no cure for Alzheimer's, there are many medications, like cholinesterase inhibitors, that slow the progression of the disease and could potentially extend a patient's cognition longer than without medication.

Plan ahead. Once you are aware of how Alzheimer's disease may affect this person, think ahead and be ready for the changes that will follow, both short-term and long-term. Also be emotionally and physically prepared to assist with future needs, including toileting and personal hygiene, adapting mealtime rituals to suit their condition and obtaining a wheelchair when mobility becomes a problem.

Create a safe environment. Make changes in your home that will protect the person you are caring for: Limit access to dangerous areas and medicine cabinets, install child-safety locks and automatic shut-off devices and install grab-bars in the bath. Eventually, it may become necessary to take measures that will prevent your loved one from leaving the house and wandering off.

Ensure a supportive environment. Your loved one may forget names for common objects. Instead of reprimanding them, offer love, emotional support, spiritual support, interesting activities and social interaction with understanding people.

Expect behavior and personality changes. Alzheimer's makes the ability to perform tasks to become increasingly difficult. Remember: As a caregiver, you are assisting a person, not a disease.

Share memories and laughter as much as possible. Enjoy sharing memories from the person's past for as long as you and they are able. As the person with AD is losing their capacity to retain or learn new information, talking about their past may allow them to revisit happier times. Although a person with Alzheimer's disease may not be able to say who you are or recognize close relatives or friends, their feelings can often be expressed through interactions geared towards their current capabilities. Everyone is capable of receiving love and kindness.

Maintain yourself. Try to maintain a sense of compassion, humor, and a willingness to learn new ways to assist the person with AD, as well as yourself. You both will experience many changes over the course of time, which requires flexibility.
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