Researchers around the globe are working diligently to discover new treatments and potential cures for Alzheimer’s, which is one of the leading causes of death in the United States. Fortunately, there have been many significant breakthroughs in Alzheimer’s research in recent years, particularly in terms of understanding how Alzheimer’s progresses and how to recognize early warning signs.
That said, there are currently around 5.4 million people living with Alzheimer’s in the United States, the vast majority of whom are age 65 and older. Friends and family members of Alzheimer’s patients can often feel helpless when it comes to helping and supporting their loved ones.
Here’s what you need to know about supporting a loved one with Alzheimer’s.
H2: Attempt to understand what your loved one is going through.
Depending on how far their Alzheimer’s has progressed, patients may feel confused, anxious, afraid, depressed, or angry. Receiving an Alzheimer’s diagnosis can be a life-changing experience, and living with the disease on a daily basis can come with many challenges and surprises. Your loved one may also experience a decline in self-confidence, or grieve the loss of their independence.
Do your best to empathize with your loved one and be understanding of what they are going through. Similarly, remember to treat them with the same amount of respect and kindness as you always have, and think about how you would like to be treated if the roles were reversed. Following these steps will help you act as the best possible support system for your loved one.
Help them maximize their independence.
For many Alzheimer’s patients, the thought of “losing their independence” by relying on others to help them with routine daily tasks is scary and upsetting. It can be helpful for caregivers and family members to help their loved one maintain as much independence as possible. The best way to do this is by focusing on what tasks they’re still able to complete on their own, and encouraging them to complete those tasks independently.
Encouraging your loved one to develop a new hobby, such as completing puzzles or engaging in physical activity, may also be beneficial for their sense of independence. Best of all, recent studies also indicate that exercise may curb some of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s in current patients.
In many cases, your loved one may only be able to complete one portion of the task on their own. In this case, it’s a good idea to work together accomplish the task, rather than completely taking things over for them. This simple act can boost your loved ones’ self-esteem, and keep them feeling motivated and optimistic.
Do what you can to smooth the communication process.
People with Alzheimer’s often experience difficulty in communicating. They may lose their train of thought, struggle to find the right word, speak less often, and have difficulty organizing their words and putting together complete sentences. This can be frustrating for both the patient and their loved ones and caregivers, but an important part of offering your support is to practice patience and do what you can to ease the communication process.
Some tips include:
- Letting your loved one know that it’s okay, that you’re interested in hearing their thoughts, and that they can take as much time as they need to get the words out.
- If you have an idea of what your loved one is attempting to say, offer a suggestion or ask if they are referring to “XYZ”.
- If you’re struggling to understand what was said, try repeating their words to them to see if you understood their meaning.
- Avoid criticizing, arguing, or rushing your loved one.
- Be clear and direct in your communication, and speak slowly.
- Rely on nonverbal communication, including eye contact and gestures.
Learn to cherish the present moment, without dwelling on the past.
It is likely that your role in your loved one’s life may change as their Alzheimer’s progresses, and that your relationship may change as well. However, it’s important to continue living in the present moment and loving your friend or relative for exactly who they are at this moment in time, instead of dwelling on how things were in the past.
Work on finding and developing new hobbies that you can enjoy together, and focus on simply spending quality time with your loved one and enjoying their company. Change is a part of life, and by accepting the changes that are occurring in your loved one’s life, you’ll be better equipped to support them.