Caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s presents a number of unique issues for the caregiver.

Hearing the news that a parent, sibling, friend or loved one has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease may be the most life-altering event you could endure. Suddenly, you could be dropped into a caregiver role and your relationship with your loved one takes a completely new turn.

Providing care and supervision for someone with Alzheimer’s disease encompasses a multitude of issues from behavioral challenges to health concerns. Behavioral difficulties vary depending on the stage of the disease. They can be as minimal as repetitive motions and as serious as verbal outbursts and/or physical aggression. Remember, your loved ones actions are not intentional. Poor behavior can be caused by pain, lack of sleep, hunger, thirst or feelings of being lost and not belonging. A caregiver should keep in mind a few key interventions:

  • Always stay calm, talk softly and slowly.
  • Attempt to turn repetitive motions into an activity. If the loved one is repeatedly folding a napkin, provide a small basket of washcloths or clothing items to fold.
  • Try to determine if the person is having some type of pain. They may not be able to communicate this to the caregiver.
  • Avoid overcrowded situations, increased activity and even multiple people in the home, as they can be overwhelming and confusing for a person with dementia.
  • Dont argue with the loved one; rather, try to validate their feelings and get them engaged in some type of activity.
  • Simplify daily tasks. If the person is calmer in the morning, then schedule appointments/errands during those hours.

If the caregiver can determine what is causing the behavior, they can often reduce or eliminate it by addressing the underlying cause.

Caregivers often are rightfully focused on the behaviors of the loved one they are caring for, but may forget about the health issues that could be occurring and possibly impacting the exhibited behaviors. Address these issues for your loved ones with the following practices:

  • Establish routine appointments with their physician.
  • Keep a notebook/log of questions you want to ask at each appointment.
  • Make sure to inform the doctor immediately of sudden changes: falls, dizziness, not making it to the bathroom and having accidents, fever and any major changes in mood or behavior.
  • Always bring a list of all medications (including vitamins/supplements) to each doctors appointment. Often, the person may be seeing more than one doctor and they are both providing medications.
  • Talk openly with the physician about the loved ones plan of care and possible next steps in their care that need to be addressed.
  • Report all events to the physician, even though they may seem minor to the caregiver. Many times, these events could be the beginning of a significant health issue.

Caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease can be incredibly challenging, yet it can also be a very rewarding time for a caregiver. Accessing support in your community and developing a highly communicative relationship with your health care practitioners will enhance the quality of life for both you and your loved one living with Alzheimer’s disease.

Michele Mongillo, RN, MSN, is a clinical director who has over 20 years of nursing experience in a variety of settings including acute care, head/spinal cord injury rehabilitation and long-term care.