Alzheimer’s disease poses a different type of challenge to caregivers. Those living with Alzheimer’s can often be adversarial to care and caregivers. Even though you are trying to help, your loved one may see it as the opposite and consider you part of the problem. This type of behavior can be a source of stress for caregivers who are typically a spouse, partner, adult children, or even professionals.
It is important to understand, however, that it is the disease that is responsible for the behavior and not the actual person.
As an Alzheimer’s caregiver, it is important to have coping strategies to help navigate and handle the different challenges that may occur when caring for a loved one with the disease. AmeriCare’s recommended caregivers have robust experience working with those with Alzheimer’s and have compiled a resource list of their best coping mechanisms below:
1. Leave Rational Arguments Behind
We often deal with tricky situations by appealing to people’s sense of reasoning and logic. It is natural to want to extend the same logic to loved ones with Alzheimer’s, however, this does not work as those with dementia cannot respond well to rational arguments. It is more productive to simply inform them of what needs to be done rather than asking for their opinion which can often lead to quarreling or bickering.
2. Research the Disease
It may seem like quite a bit of work because there is a lot of information out there on Alzheimer’s disease, but it is worth the time. With research, you will better understand what your loved one is going through and how to handle the situation more effectively. You may also find comfort in knowing that there are other people going through the same challenges you are. In fact, did you know that about 5.8 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease?
3. Ask for Help When You Need It
Periodically or regularly asking family and friends for help can ease your workload and carve out much-needed time to recharge. Asking for help does not mean you are dodging your responsibility; on the contrary, taking time to rest will give you the energy you need to help out more. Whenever you feel overwhelmed or have important engagements, reach out to family and friends or professional caregivers for help. Consider reaching out to AmeriCare to learn more about respite care.
4. Learn to Handle Misunderstandings
If your loved one has Alzheimer’s disease, they may find it difficult to properly interpret both non-verbal and verbal cues. Try not to be discouraged when it is difficult to communicate effectively. Try to repeat statements in a clear and concise manner and work to reduce noise and limit distractions when communicating. For example, make sure the television, computers, or anything else with background noise are turned off when attempting to communicate. Try to use specific titles and names rather than pronouns when having conversations to help limit confusion.
5. Prioritize Your Mental and Physical Health
As a caregiver, you should also take care of your own health. Do not wait until you have a break down before helping yourself. It is when you are healthy that you can provide the best care to your loved one. Create enough time for exercise, socializing, privacy, and even sleep. This will help you stay healthy both physically and mentally.
6. Focus on Goals
Achieving a goal is more important than forcing reality or honesty on an uncooperative loved one. Memory loss from Alzheimer’s often means that important memories may be lost or distorted which can inspire odd requests such as asking to see a deceased family member. Try to redirect these requests to a similar but achievable goal to avoid confrontation. Also, if not revealing the truth about an event or activity will ensure compliance, then do it. For example, telling your loved one you are going to their preferred destination while you are actually headed to the doctor’s office is a way to ensure they see their doctor rather than refuse the trip.
7. Adapt to Their Reality
Many times, during the later stages of Alzheimer’s, your loved one may begin to shape their own reality by making up stories. When these types of instances occur, it is often better to adapt to their reality and implement a strategy that is referred to as “therapeutic lying.” The Alzheimer’s Association advises avoiding arguing with a loved one who has Alzheimer’s. Reasoning and arguing with your loved one will rarely change their mind, but only increase frustration and anxiety for everyone involved in the situation. The Alzheimer’s Association also recommends not criticizing or correcting your loved one, but rather to listen to the intention or the “why” of what is being said. Try to connect with the feelings of the story and not the facts.
8. Watch out for “Normal” Moments
People with dementia can have some moments of clarity where communication is clear and behavior normal. This does not mean their real self is back or they were faking their symptoms. Accepting this reality will help you cope better and avoid frustration when their symptoms return.
Caregivers, like those referred by AmeriCare, provide essential services for family and seniors’ health. If you ever feel overwhelmed or suffer from poor health, seek out professional help. Seeking help can prevent you from burnout and save you and your loved one from pain and anguish. If you notice any aggressive behavior that you cannot handle alone, call the attention of mental health experts immediately. Taking on the role of primary caregiver to someone with Alzheimer’s is no easy task so make time for yourself and seek the help of professionals whenever needed.