By Pamela Mangen, MBA, MSN, RN, PHN, PCCN-CMC, LSSGB

It is never easy to accept Alzheimer’s, whether it’s a friend, loved one, or just someone close. Although it has been around for a while, many of us are still uncertain as to the actual effects of the disease. Understanding the disease would help you to tailor your care for the individual and provide more effective, compassionate care.

Today, over 6 million people in the US, age 65 and over, live with some form of Alzheimer’s; approximately 70 percent are over the age of 75 and older. Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia, a neuro degenerative disease. Over time, the brain shrinks, and deterioration of brain cells causes one to lose memory, first short-term, then long-term memory will follow. A person with Alzheimer’s often gets confused and disoriented, making it difficult to perform daily tasks. There is no cure, and the disease gets progressively worse over time. There are few medications to help slow progression and minimize symptoms, but it is usually effective for mild cognitive symptoms and not for the advanced Alzheimer’s stage.

Preparing for what’s to come with Alzheimer’s can help individuals to live a more comfortable life that will ease challenges and frustrations when you can help them with recognition and memory abilities. Here are some steps you can take to help them.

  • Create a memory album, filled with pictures, identifications, passages about each picture including time and dates, even momentum pieces.
  • Create notes that you can stick to each common areas that they visit around the house as a reminder of what they should do.
  • Regulate schedule. Routines will make it easier for them to remember and recognize what they need to do. Be sure to have ample time for tasks that will take longer since they will tend to take longer to complete.
  • Create a safe home environment to prevent falls and accidents. Be sure to keep sharp, destructible, breakable, and fragile items away and out of reach. Reorganize your furniture and home if needed to make it safe for them. You may need to label rooms and create clear paths to common rooms like bedrooms, living rooms, dining areas, and bathrooms. Be sure to unplug small appliances after each use such as toaster ovens, hair dryers, etc. Clear areas of any cords, clutters, scattered rugs, and ensure floors are never slippery. Lock up medications, dangerous items, poisonous and toxic household supplies, alcohol, and other items that need to be kept safe. Install additional safety equipment such as smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, cameras, grab bars, railings, high-rise toilet seats.
  • Involve them with simple tasks such as setting the table, dressing themselves, combing their own hair, putting lotion on themselves.
  • Create mental and physical activities that are not too challenging. It is proven that any activities will stimulate your brain and mobility. Simple activities can be playing memory games such as cards, word puzzles, and physical activities such as walking, stretching exercises.
  • Simplify communication. Provide clear, concise short instructions, but engage them in meaningful conversations. Conversations may help trigger memories.
  • Limit distractions. When there are too many activities within a room, it can create more confusion. Limiting the noise level will help them to focus better.
  • Ensure that everything in the house is functioning well, such as the water running appropriately and the temperature of the water is not scalding hot, television is working properly, electric toothbrushes are in good condition. Remember Alzheimer’s individuals get frustrated easily.
  • Create a support network. This would help you and provide support when you need help to care for them. It is also important to have back-ups in case you cannot follow-through with an activity or event. Consistency and continuity are important for them not to get off track and create confusion.

You need to have patience when assisting individuals with Alzheimer’s, but the care you provide, and the care you show will go a long way for them. Although they cannot always show their appreciation, they do appreciate the care and time you are giving them. Be alert, flexible, and accommodating! With you and the help of your family, friends, and support group, you will be able to provide the best care for your Alzheimer’s loved one or individual.