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Assisting Those With Alzheimer's Disease and Their Caregivers

by Gini Cunningham

posted in Health and Fitness

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You cannot walk a mile in the caregiver's shoes; they are too big and too singular to the care of an individual. However, it is important to realize all of the challenges a caregiver might face. And once you realize some of the challenges, you will probably be able to find ways to help. Caregivers change from being a spouse, a daughter, a dear neighbor into someone with a 24/7 job with an adult who is in cognitive decline. It is similar to raising a baby in reverse. Babies grow and develop, being able to complete one more task each day. This continues throughout childhood and into adolescence and beyond. With Alzheimer's disease the adult loses capacity to drive, dress, eat, and eventually to swallow. Instead of heralding each day with new skills, each dusk presents another ability that is less strong until it finally disappears.
Helping a loved one with Alzheimer's and his/her caregiver may require time and patience. Many do not want to admit a need for support and assistance. "We're fine" may greet your ears as you witness the person with Alzheimer's completely disheveled and agitated and the caregiver drenched in exhaustion. You cannot force yourself, but you can glance around to determine ways to help. You must also feel comfortable with the tasks you request to take on or the ones requested of you. Not everyone is able to give a bath or assist with toileting and that is all right. There are other essential responsibilities.
Perhaps you feel able to assist with instrumental activities of daily life such as household chores, preparing meals, providing transportation, or arranging doctor's appointments. Maybe you can drive the caregiver and loved one to appointments or running errands for them. Sometimes a doctor's visit would benefit from extra ears. That might be a role you can play. You may the one to research symptoms, recommendations for care, or find support services. A phone and the Internet are handy tools. Many people do not know about aid such as in-home services, Tele-health, Telemedicine, nursing supplies available, and maybe assisted living services.
You may discover that the nursing instinct resides within you as you aid with personal activities of daily living such as bathing, dressing, grooming, feeding, and helping the person walk, transferring from bed to chair, using the toilet, and managing incontinence. Again, not everyone can perform these tasks, but maybe you can complete some or all of them. Sometimes help is needed in managing behavioral symptoms such as aggression, wandering, depressive moods, agitation, anxiety, repetitive activity, or nighttime disturbances. This might mean that you divert attention, take a loved one on a short walk, or spend the night so that the caregiver is able to sleep 6-8 hours.
You may be the person who has no time but does have money to hire others to provide respite care so that the caregiver can breath or you might provide overall management during part or throughout the day. You might possess the wisdom to navigate the medical system including doctor's recommendations to help your friend and loved one. Another enormous concern is addressing family issues relating to caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's disease including communicating with other family members about care plans and other decisions. While this situation is really none of your business and out of your control, you may be the voice of reason as you have spent time with the person with Alzheimer's and the caregiver and can offer insight and background information. Be wary of the latter responsibility so that you do not create family rifts, embitter family members, or become viewed as an interloper who packs on worry and trouble. Getting others to understand what the caregiver is seeing, feeling, and sensing when well-meaning family and friends interfere or offer too much advice might be a job you can fulfill.
Above all hone your talents of listening with your heart, mind, and soul. Those individuals with Alzheimer's who are able to communicate semi-coherently often need to unload. Loved ones are often frightened, confused, and angry. Caregivers, too, feel these emotions and would mot likely appreciate a non-judgmental friend. A real friend with good ears is a gift, a respite moment, and a solace.
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