In Alzheimer’s disease (AD), significant numbers of nerve cells in the brain die, affecting patients’ ability to remember things and to think clearly — resulting in confusion, behavioural changes and diminished communication skills. It is a progressive condition. As Alzheimer’s disease progresses, people experience greater memory loss and other cognitive difficulties. Problems can include wandering and getting lost, trouble handling money and paying bills, repeating questions, taking longer to complete normal daily tasks, and personality and behaviour changes. However, many are resources available to help patients cope with the disease and to assist them in staying active, in caring for themselves, and with making their own decisions for as long as possible. As a caretaker, it is important to know what to expect and how to help them.
What to expect?
In addition to changes in the brain, other things may affect how people with Alzheimer’s behave. As a caretaker, you need to be prepared to expect to see these changes:
– Difficulty in communicating or verbalizing because of problems with memory and critical thinking It is difficult for the patient to find appropriate words, and they may easily forget what they want to say or do.
– Problems recognizing familiar objects.
– Diminished attention span.
– Changes in behaviour and sleeping habits, as well as hallucinations, paranoia, agitation, and aggression.
– Inability to recall home address, telephone number or the names of family and friends.
– Difficulty making decisions and sensing danger.
– A problem with wandering, leading to serious safety concerns.
– Difficulties with physical perception such as reduced vision, hearing, and depth perception.
– Loss of physical strength and poor coordination and motor skills.
How can you help?
As the condition advance, the symptoms get worse and someone is likely to need more help carrying out tasks that they may have once taken for granted. As a caretaker, keep in mind these things to improve the quality of life of the patient:
– Having a daily routine, so that the patient feels in a comfortable, familiar environment.
– Focus on his or her feelings rather than words. Exercise can have a positive impact on emotional health, by releasing stress and promoting personal enjoyment, and reducing incidents of agitation or wandering.
– Regular exercise and a nutritious diet are also important to overall health.
– Keep them engaged by continuing to do activities you enjoy for as long as they’re able.
– Use nightlights, especially so the person can find the bathroom. Keep the bathroom door open so that the toilet is visible.
– Use memory aids such as journals, to-do lists and calendars. Encourage them to write down their thoughts in a journal until they can.
– Offer small glasses of water frequently throughout the day to promote adequate hydration. Offer food with high water content, such as fruit, soups and smoothies.
– Break tasks down into individual steps.
– Replace zippers and buttons with fabric fasteners. Choose pants with elastic waists rather than belts.
– Put labels or photos on cupboards to remind yourself where things are.
It is important to try to prevent unsafe situations, and at the same time make the person feel calm and comfortable in the home. It may sound like a daunting task, but it is possible to modify and adapt the home while keeping the surroundings familiar.