If you are taking care of someone with Alzheimer’s at home, you’re not alone; this is a common scenario. There are ways to help you cope with the challenges, including stress — and the sadness and frustration that can accompany it.
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To make life more comfortable for you and your loved one, neurologist Jagan Pillai, MD, PhD, advises caregivers to build more structure into your life and let go of some of your expectations for your loved one.
Here are three tips to help you do this:
1. Tighten up your routine
A structured schedule that doesn’t change much from day to day is good for people with Alzheimer’s. “If there is more structure in your day, the person with Alzheimer’s will be less agitated,” Dr. Pillai says.
To help your loved one stay calm and sleep well:
- Plan meals, errands and bedtime for the same times each day
- Keep routine events in the same order each day
- Make sure you turn off the TV, turn down the lights, and keep the house quiet leading up to bedtime
2. Consider role for medications with your doctor
To help you know what kind of behavioral changes to expect in your loved one, Dr. Pillai advises caregivers to find out what parts of the brain are affected in your loved one. Some drugs can mitigate some of the behaviors or symptoms but have to be carefully considered in terms of their side effects. While other medications (accessed through clinical trials) may help slow or stop the progression of the disease.
While drugs can be a great help, Dr. Pillai cautions against over-medicating. “We try to strike a balance. We want to help people manage distressing behaviors, but it isn’t our goal to stop all concerning behaviors,” he says. “That would shut the patient down, and that’s not what we want to do.”
3. Relax your expectations
Caring for someone with Alzheimer’s is highly stressful and can be upsetting.
The urge to correct a loved one who keeps forgetting what day it is or how to work the TV can be strong. And when a person with Alzheimer’s asks the same question over and over, or repeats the same story, the stress and frustration can fray a caregiver’s nerves. But it is important to let these things go, Dr. Pillai says.
“Do not correct them constantly,” he says. “Let them make mistakes, or deflect the conversation to a different topic. These are skills that caregivers develop over time. It helps if caregivers can find a larger space for their loved ones to make the mistakes they need to make, and not react to it.”
It’s important as a caregiver to watch for signs of burnout in yourself and to ask for help from others when you need it. By being patient, realistic and consistent, caregivers can manage some of the stress involved with caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s.