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Navigating Alzheimer’s Disease as a Caregiver and Patient

Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia caused by a tangling of the brain’s nerve cells and a buildup of certain proteins. The brain damage is irreversible and the patient’s mental and physical functions gradually deteriorate. Eventually, they lose their ability to live independently and will need round-the-clock care, often in specialized memory care environments in assisted living residences.

In most cases, Alzheimer’s symptoms manifest slowly through three stages (mild, moderate, and severe) as the disease progresses through the brain, but everyone experiences Alzheimer’s differently.

Mild Alzheimer’s disease

People with early-stage Alzheimer’s often live independent lives, caring for themselves, driving, paying bills, socializing, and working. But, they may experience memory lapses, lose things, forget what they just read or heard, or be unable to recall the right word for a common object. They may have trouble performing tasks or find it increasingly difficult to plan or organize. You may begin to notice these changes as well.

A person diagnosed with mild Alzheimer’s is often likely to understand what that means and may react with fear, denial, anxiety, depression, and anger. The people close to them often experience these emotions, too.

Caring for someone with mild Alzheimer’s disease

Your loved one’s condition will worsen over time, and your role as caregiver will deepen. This is a good time to discuss future options for legal, financial, and long-term care arrangements. It’s also smart for you both to take advantage of the many support services and resources that are available to you. Learn as much as you can about Alzheimer’s together. One of the best resources out there for Alzheimer’s patients and their caregivers is the comprehensive Alzheimer’s Association website. Encourage exercise and brain teasers to keep body and mind in shape. See to a balanced diet and create daily routines.

Determining whether or not your loved one needs help, and how much to give, is a big challenge during early-stage Alzheimer’s. Try to find a balance between dependency and independence. Don’t assume but ask if they need a hand. Enable activities they can safely enjoy with some supervision if necessary. Discuss a plan for avoiding potentially stressful or frustrating situations. Talk about ways they can comfortably ask for help.

Be mindful of your own stress level throughout the journey. Be sure to keep yourself healthy and don’t be afraid to ask for help from your support network.

Moderate Alzheimer’s disease

In middle-stage Alzheimer’s, there will be good days and bad days, but caregiver responsibilities will increase. The individual may find it more and more difficult to perform routine tasks like dressing, expressing themselves verbally, or following a conversation. Structure becomes more important at this stage, and daily routines will have to be adapted according to how the dementia advances. Flexibility and patience are key.

People with moderate Alzheimer’s may exhibit changes in behavior or personality. Angry outbursts, confusion, irritability, sleep disturbance, or wandering are all distressing signs of a declining brain. The person may not always recognize you, and you, too, may wonder who this stranger is. Remember that the disease, not the individual, is causing these changes.

Caring for someone with moderate Alzheimer’s disease

Personal care becomes more and more difficult now, so your assistance may be needed in eating, dressing, and toileting. Try to remember that loss of independence and privacy is one of the most devastating experiences anyone can have. Another particularly distressing milestone is giving up driving.

Communication in moderate Alzheimer’s disease becomes increasingly challenging as the individual starts to lose the ability to find or understand words. In order to help them retain the dignity they deserve, it’s important to handle all these transitions with sensitivity.

Most important, people with moderate Alzheimer’s should not live alone. There are too many safety risks, such as wandering, misusing appliances, and falling, to name just a few. Whether they move in with relatives, go into assisted living, or settle into a long-term care facility like the Memory Care Suite at the Lester Senior Housing Community, it’s imperative to ensure that someone is always watching out for your friend or loved one.

Severe Alzheimer’s disease

People in the final stages of Alzheimer’s need round-the-clock personal care. They usually have trouble eating and eventually become bedridden or chair-bound. They may experience incontinence and be prone to infection. Your focus is now on preserving their dignity and quality of life. You may also have to make difficult decisions on their behalf. Never be afraid to tap into your network for emotional and professional support.

Caring for someone with severe Alzheimer’s disease

Even if your loved one can’t communicate, you can still let them know you care. Read to them, play their favorite music, look through old photos, hold their hand, or just sit outside together. Help them stay nourished and hydrated. If communication is impaired, be aware of any physical signs of pain, distress, or illness.

Immobility can cause issues like rashes, frozen joints, and circulation problems, so keep an eye on his or her fragile skin and body. Clean and moisturize the skin gently. To relieve pressure, you can prop their arms and legs up with pillows (be mindful of bony areas) and change their position at least every two hours to avoid sores or discomfort. Help them do range-of-motion exercises (with the doctor’s approval). Since they’re vulnerable to infection, make sure their teeth, gums, and tongue are clean and tend to cuts or scrapes immediately.

When memory loss starts affecting daily life, it may be time to consider the intimate, resident-focused approach to memory care at the Memory Care Suite at the Lester Senior Housing Facility. For more information about the person-centered care provided by Lester’s specially trained caregivers, contact David Rozen at (973) 929-2725 or davidr@jchcorp.org.