The challenges of caring for someone with Alzheimer's are frequently discussed. But most people tasked with managing care for someone living with this disease are already well aware of these challenges and are looking for something more: Practical tools and actionable insights for managing them. Read on for ten tips aimed at helping caregivers most effectively tackle the issues they face every day.
1. Have a schedule.
Most caregivers feel like they simply don’t have enough hours in the day. Creating a schedule can help you determine how to get everything done and when. The good news? People with Alzheimer’s do well with routines. In devising a routine for yourself, you may also minimize agitation and confusion for your loved one.
When designing your schedule, consider the needs of both you and the other relevant parties. For example: when are you best up for helping your aging loved one bathe? When is he or she most agreeable to this activity? When are others family members available to offer backup? Even scheduling routine trips to the bathroom can be a proactive strategy against incontinence.
2. Build in adequate time.
On a perfect day in a conducive environment, it may only take you 15 minutes to pay the bills or fold a basket of laundry. However, these tasks can take much longer for caregivers who are juggling other tasks and/or whose attention may be divided. Expect things to take longer, and build in extra time to accommodate this reality. Also, be sure to schedule in breaks for yourself and for your loved one.
3. But prepare to be flexible.
We’ve all heard the expression, “The best laid plans….” This applies no more appropriately than to caregivers. A schedule may be a vital time management tool, but it’s not a foolproof one. There are going to be days when your plans goes awry. Expecting this and adjusting as necessary can help you minimize resulting stress—both for you and for your loved one.
4. Work with your loved one, not against.
When time is short and obligations are many, it’s easy to feel alone and overwhelmed. However, caregivers aren’t alone. As much as possible, allowing and encouraging loved ones to participate in their own care—from helping with the schedule to getting themselves dressed—can take things off your plate while empowering them.
5. Commit to communicating better.
Many caregivers experience frustration when trying to communicate with loved ones who have Alzheimer’s. But if you show frustration, your loved one will feel it too. Maintain a calm, gentle and positive manner throughout your interactions.
Additionally, keep in mind that very few people function well when they’re distracted, but this is amplified for people with dementia. Eliminating background noise like the television and radio can help your loved one focus on the task at hand. Not only does this boost productivity, it also reduces your own frustration.
If you do find yourself getting too frustrated while trying to communicate (or negotiate), take a step back or leave the room to collect yourself.
6. Use your support network.
Caregivers hear a lot about the importance of building a support network. But these resources are only worth as much as they are used. Your loved one’s healthcare team, Alzheimer’s support groups, and your friends and family are all available to help with everything from questions about alleviating symptoms to tips for addressing behavior problems. The more you call on these resources, the more you stand to gain from them. The converse is also true: If you don't use the resources available to you, they can't help.
7. Turn meals into opportunities.
Food issues can be a particular challenge for Alzheimer’s caregivers. However, meals can also be an opportunity for socialization. Focus on the emotional aspects of eating as well as the logistical ones. Create a calm environment conducive to eating to make the process more pleasant.
This is another example of a time where engaging the person—for example, in preparing the food or setting the table—is beneficial. Not only can it lighten your workload once it becomes a habit, but it also promotes feelings of personal control while nurturing the functional skills in Alzheimer’s patients.
8. Find the right activities.
Many caregivers struggle with keeping loved ones with Alzheimer’s engaged. Taking time to find the right activities can make all the difference. If your loved one already has a favorite hobby or activity, build on that. Make sure activities are aligned with his/her current abilities, and be patient throughout the process. Simple is always best. More complicated activities are more manageable if broken down into smaller steps. If you notice that your loved one Is getting agitated or upset during any activity, however, offer help or move onto something else.
9. Embrace what you enjoy.
Being a caregiver doesn’t mean you can’t find joy in life. Neither does living with Alzheimer's disease. Finding activities you both enjoy and can do together can offer you both a sense of fulfillment while strengthening your bond. This can be as simple as going for a walk.
10. Reflect on what’s working….and what’s not.
Are there any particular aspects of your daily life that are going well? Or aspects that have become daily stumbling point? Taking time out to review your day can help you assess what’s working and what’s not so you can make positive changes. This is also a great opportunity to acknowledge your own accomplishments—something many caregivers fail to do.
One last tip all caregivers need to hear? While some of these tips will hopefully lighten your load, difficult days can and will happen. Go easy on yourself and accept that you are doing the best that you can in a trying—yet worthwhile—situation.
If you're looking for a comprehensive resource for family caregivers, check out our online Family Caregiver Guide.
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