Becoming a caregiver for a family member is challenging under the best circumstances. When your loved one has dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, caregiving can be even more stressful. It’s imperative that you prepare for ahead of time so you and your loved one can handle the transition more gracefully.
There are three basic stages of mental decline for patients diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia: Early, Middle and Late. Each stage comes with a set of challenges that caregivers must be ready for to effectively help their charge. If you plan on caring for a person affected by dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease, consider going to the Alzheimer’s Association website and exploring their caregiver planning guide.
During the early stages, a caregiver’s role is mostly to help maintain their loved one’s independence. At this point in the disease, patients tend to experience small changes in their brain functioning, but are still able to maintain semi-normal lives. Your charge may still be able to go out independently to social functions, and manage their lifestyle. Caregivers are needed mostly to ensure medication is managed properly and that their loved one is happy and healthy.
During the early stage, the Alzheimer’s Association recommends that caregivers “make legal and financial care decisions for the future; try to complete tasks as a team; read up on caregiver resources; and seek out a support group when feeling overwhelmed.”
The Middle stage of the disease brings about fundamental brain changes that can affect a person’s daily life. At this point, living alone or independently is not feasible. “You may notice the person with Alzheimer’s jumbling words, having trouble dressing, getting frustrated or angry, or acting in unexpected ways, such as refusing to bathe,” explains the Alzheimer’s Association.
Because middle stage patients function on a different level than early stage patients, you’ll need to refine your caregiving strategy. Always speak to your charge in a calm tone, as they can be easily upset. Whenever possible, assess the emotions your loved one is expressing, as well as the words, this may help you understand what they are feeling and allow you to help them. Keep highly visible written reminders around the home to help them maintain a bit of independence. Keep an eye on physical or mental delays that seem sudden.
In the Late stage of the disease, caregivers must be ever-present to maintain a good quality of life. Patients may be unable to walk without assistance, have trouble eating, be vulnerable to infections, and incapable of verbal communication. It is important to create a supportive and comforting environment for your charges during this time.
As late stage is the final phase of the disease, caregivers can expect extra challenges. The Alzheimer’s Association suggests “playing your loved one’s favorite music; reading portions of books that have meaning for the person; looking at old photos together; preparing favorite foods; aiding with daily ablutions; and sitting outside together on a nice day.” The goal of a caregiver at this point is to maintain their loved one’s dignity and quality of life.
At Capital City Nurses, we know that caregiving is a tough job that gets tougher when patients are afflicted with a disease that affects mental functions. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, please call the Alzheimer’s Association’s 24-hour helpline for resources and expert advice: 1-800-272-3900.