Alzheimer’s caregiving is one of the most difficult challenges a person can face. This piece will review the various components of Alzheimer’s care that all caregivers should consider; from the recognizable stages of Alzheimer’s to the challenges of caregiving for those with the disease to tips to ensure you have the proper tools required to care for this difficult and unpredictable disease.
The Stages of Alzheimer’s
One of the most important things you can do as a caregiver is to set appropriate expectations. Alzheimer’s is a disease that affects a person’s memory, judgement and ability to think logically. These symptoms become more pronounced as the disease progresses and abilities decline. Though there are treatments for Alzheimer’s, doctors have yet to find a cure. Life expectancy post-diagnosis for a person with Alzheimer’s tends to be between six to eight years, but can be as long as 20 ¹.
There are three stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Stage one is the mildest form, where the older adult begins to have occasional memory lapses or may forget where they placed personal belongings. In stage one of Alzheimer’s, many experience difficulty with more involved thought, as well as demonstrating prolonged changes in personality. Many can still function at a fairly high level in the first stage.
The second stage is moderate, or middle stage, Alzheimer’s. In this stage, the previous symptoms like memory loss, personality change, and confusion become even more prominent. Caregivers must now help the older adult navigate through their surroundings as they may experience difficulty figuring out their location, which can cause the Alzheimer’s sufferer to unknowingly put themselves in harm’s way. Additionally, this is the stage in which many begin to confuse loved ones with someone else, forgetting names and identities.
The final stage of Alzheimer’s is the severe dementia phase. This is when the older adult is unable to have a conversation, interact with their environment, and requires around the clock help. In addition to the decline of mental abilities, physical ailments caused by the disease also begin to manifest. The care receiver may have trouble walking, their muscles and reflexes behave abnormally, and eventually they’ll be unable to receive nourishment on their own ².
It’s critical for a caregiver to mentally prepare, know what to expect, and resist the urge to blame themselves in any way as the disease progresses.
Challenges of Alzheimer’s Caregiving
As the disease advances, the foundations of mindful Alzheimer’s care gets more and more difficult to accomplish. The challenge of caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s presents itself in two main categories: the overall difficulties on the caregiver him or herself, and the struggles the caregiver must deal with while providing care for the older adult with Alzheimer’s.
Caregiving for those with Alzheimer’s can cause financial, emotional, and even legal tolls on the caregiver. After spending decades with your loved one, the experience of that person not recognizing you anymore is terrible. Keep in mind, this has nothing to do with you, it’s just the nature of the disease. Pouring money into care and then eventually having to figure out if, when and who takes on the role of power of attorney is another set of hurdles.
The day-to-day challenges of dementia caregiving are considerable in number. First of all, the abilities of your loved one can fluctuate from hour to hour and day to day, so don’t expect behavioral consistency. As the older adult enters the later stages of Alzheimer’s, you may have to help him or her use the bathroom or clean up accidents and messes. Keeping track of an older adult can be another scary situation, as he or she is prone to losing his or her way and lacks the cognitive abilities necessary to find the way home.
Alzheimer’s Caregiving Tips
The best advice you could possibly heed when it comes to caregiving for someone with mild to severe dementia is patience. Use short sentences, as the longer your directions are, the higher the likelihood your loved one will become confused or unable to comprehend them. When it comes to planning out the older adult’s day, try to keep their routines as familiar as possible ³. In regards to grooming, try to retain your loved one’s physical appearance from before they started declining to give them a sense of normalcy. You will also want to keep it practical and prioritize what’s ultimately healthiest for them as things as simple as brushing their teeth or showering can become a challenge.
No matter what, the lingering effects of Alzheimer’s disease on caregivers, especially if the person is a loved one in your family, is going to be extremely difficult to cope with. However, applying these tips, and following advice from doctors will make this experience less difficult on you and your family.
If you’re a daughter caring for a parent with Alzheimer’s, read our best tips on how to juggle life and dementia caregiving.