Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease, but the rate of progress varies. In a few people, the deterioration will occur quickly. In most people though, the downhill course takes years. You may notice some memory problems in your loved one at first and pass it off as normal aging.
But then there may be occasional confusion. He or she may get lost on the way home or be unable to locate the car in the store’s parking lot. Simple addition, such as checking the bank balance or credit card statements, may be difficult. Minor episodes.
Nothing serious. Or is it?
If you are starting to notice lapses like this, you need to discuss the problem with your loved one. This will be difficult for both of you as you try to overcome denial and find the words to talk about the possibility of dementia and the end of life.
But before mental decline becomes worse, you need to learn about your loved one’s wishes and record them so that there is a clear account later. You also need to decide who will be making medical and financial decisions in the future. Some attorneys specialize in elder law and consulting one would be wise.
Consulting a doctor as early as you can is also important. Your doctor will be able to help, providing information on caring for people with Alzheimer’s disease. Your loved one will probably want to live at home for as long as possible.
So how do you prepare for caring for someone with Alzheimer’s?
First you have to understand there are changes that are going to occur in your loved one’s personality and body.
- Forgetfulness and confusion will become worse.
- Paranoid behavior or episodes of panic can occur.
- Balance will become a problem, making falls more likely.
- Your loved one may have deterioration of vision, hearing, even the sense of touch.
Next you need to have that conversation with your loved one and go with him or her to the doctor and the lawyer.
Then make sure the home is safe. Look carefully at he home, identifying hazards.
- An unsteady gait and a tendency to fall are major considerations. Get rid of throw rugs and anything low to the ground, such as low tables.
- Be sure there are no weapons in the house.
- Reset the water temperature to less than 120 degrees so that the hot water cannot burn skin.
- Check on the smoke detectors regularly and have fire extinguishers available.
- Write emergency telephone numbers, including your own, in large print and put them on places like bulletin boards in the kitchen, living room and bathroom.
- You may want to install ramps outside the entrances. And make sure the sidewalks and porch are brightly lit.
- Be sure the interior of the house has plenty of illumination as well.
- Installing grab bars next to the toilet and in the shower or bathtub is sensible.
- At some point you will need to place all medications in a closet or drawer that locks and keep the key to your home.
Establishing a daily routine will help prevent confusion. Having the same activities in the same order every day helps to keep your loved one grounded and stable.
- Meals should be served at the same time daily.
- There should be time set aside for walking and exercise plus quiet times for naps or reading or watching TV.
- Do not let him or her get bored. Make sure to provide whatever may be needed for favorite hobbies. Make him or her responsible for some of the housecleaning, cooking, washing and organizing tasks of the home.
- Encourage friends of your loved one to stop by. Isolation should be avoided.
- Try to maintain your loved one’s sense of independence and control as long as possible. Dignity is essential to pride.
If you are planning to be the caretaker for someone with Alzheimer’s disease, you will need help. You simply cannot do it all by yourself. You’ll burn out. Besides taking care of your loved one physically, you must always be respectful and patient. Joining a support group for Alzheimer’s caretakers would be helpful, especially if the people in the group are all caring for individuals at the same stage of the disease.
But think about getting in home help as well. You need to take care of yourself, too.