4 Tips for Alzheimer’s Caregivers

How to deal with a difficult role and a changing relationship

Portrait of older woman

Caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease is an emotional rollercoaster, even for the most patient caregivers. You may feel you are losing control of a changing relationship.

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But there is always hope, says Alex Rae-Grant, MD, interim director of the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health. Dr. Rae-Grant offers some pointers to help you deal with — and even appreciate — your situation.

Embrace the good

Many Alzheimer’s patients can enjoy the arts well into the middle stages of the disease. The same is true for physical contact, which can be comforting.

“Just because someone has lost memory function doesn’t mean they can’t enjoy the finer things in life, such as music and art,” Dr. Rae-Grant says. “Some Alzheimer’s patients even show a heightened appreciation of such things as they draw on parts of the brain that are relatively spared.”

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Know what you’re up against

Learn as much as you can about Alzheimer’s disease so you can understand the changes that will take place over time. Talk to a doctor about medications to manage agitation, sleep problems and other issues your loved one may experience.

“Remember, when they act out, it’s not their fault,” Dr. Rae-Grant says. “Be as patient as you can be, while recognizing that you will need help and a break from time to time.”

Plan ahead

Before you reach the point where your loved one needs more care than you can possibly provide, talk with the care team and family members about assisted living. With a doctor’s help, give yourself permission to take this next step — no matter how hard it is.

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“We assume you and your family will do whatever is in your power to do,” Dr. Rae-Grant says. “Beyond that, no one can fault you when the needs exceed your abilities.”

Give it everything you’ve got

Eventually, you can learn to enjoy the caregiving role and your ability to make a loved one’s life more livable.

Dr. Rae-Grant offers a final thought: “Caring for others is one of the most important gifts we can give.”

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