Alzheimer’s disease, although considered a disease of the elderly, can actually strike at any age. It is true that it affects older people more often, but its onset can vary enough that everyone needs to know what the disease is and what can be done about it. In this country alone, in 2010, 5.3 million people had the disease, 200,000 of whom were under the age of 65. But far beyond the statistics, there are millions of Americans whose lives are affected by Alzheimer’s disease. For every person with this debilitating disease, there are family members and friends who must make difficult decisions about their day-to-day care.
Currently, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, and there are no medications that will stop the disease in its tracks. Even if you feel helplessly that there must be something you can do to help your loved one, you must resign yourself to the fact that the best you can do for them is to make them comfortable. You need to decide when the person needs professional nursing care and how long you can care for them yourself. No one wants to make the decision to place a relative in a nursing home, but the time will come when you have to be strong enough to make that choice in the best interests of the patient.
As long as you are able to keep the person in their own home or in yours, there are some strategies you need to be aware of to make the environment as comfortable as possible for them. Here are some of the tips you will need:
– As difficult as it may be, be patient. This person isn’t behaving the way he or she does just to show you a bad time. You also need to be sensitive, be in a good mood at all times and have a positive outlook on life.
– If you take the person home, you will need to “secure” your home so that the patient is safe. This will include storing dangerous objects, such as knives and matches, locking medications and liquor cabinets, and blocking stairs.
– Don’t try to go it alone. No matter how strong you think you are, you will need support to get through this difficult time. Finding friends who have been through what you are going through can be very soothing. You may want to join an Alzheimer support group in your community.
– People with Alzheimer’s disease thrive on routine, so keep your daily schedule as consistent as possible. A familiar routine and environment can go a long way in keeping the person calm.
– Accept that it is difficult for the patient and denial is the biggest obstacle when it comes to covering up mistakes that have occurred.
– Join a support group if you feel that you are not listened to enough or that you lack ideas about how to care for your loved one. Learn from and connect with others who are facing the same challenges.
– Use available resources. There are many community and online resources to help you prioritize your efforts and provide effective care. Start by finding the Alzheimer Society in your country. These organizations offer practical support, helplines, advice and training for caregivers and their families.
– Plan for your own care. See your doctor for regular check-ups and watch for signs and symptoms of excessive stress. It’s easy to give up the people and activities you love when you’re mired in care-giving, but this can jeopardize your health and peace of mind. Do your best to maintain your social life and continue your hobbies and interests.
– Get moving. Regular exercise not only helps you stay in shape, but also releases endorphins that can really improve your mood. Get at least 30 minutes of exercise. If it’s hard to get away from it all at once for that long, divide the time into 10-minute sessions spread throughout the day.
– Talk to someone. Talk to a trusted friend, family member, clergy member or therapist about what you are experiencing. Just talking face-to-face with someone who loves you can be extremely difficult.