How to Help Someone with Alzheimer’s Disease
Forgetfulness and confusion are common to someone living with Alzheimer’s disease and it can often make everyday activities and tasks harder. If you have a friend or relative with Alzheimer’s, understanding what they’re going through can help you be a compassionate and helpful member of their support group.
Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease that affects the structure and function of the brain. Its most well-known symptom is memory loss. A person with early-stage Alzheimer’s will have difficulty remembering recent events or keeping track of a conversation.
As the disease progresses, the person will lose track of where they are in space and time. They might forget what season it is, where they live or what a fork is for. A family member walks through the door and they don’t recognize the person.
Caring for and interacting with a person who has Alzheimer’s, whether you’re a formal caregiver or not, can be challenging. It’s difficult to watch someone you love as they forget where they are and who you are. Then there are the logistical challenges of helping someone who might not know that they need help.
Sometimes, the best thing you can do is just to be there for the person. Here are some ways you can help a relative or friend with Alzheimer’s through everyday situations and interactions.
With Alzheimer’s, nearly everything is confusing. People with the disease live this way for years, sometimes a decade or more if they begin to develop it before they turn 80. To help someone in any stage of Alzheimer’s, you can provide comfort through simple things like routines, softening your responses and encouraging independence and open communication.
People with Alzheimer’s take comfort in routine. Keep their days as predictable as possible, including familiar meals at regular times.
Minimize Confusion and Soften Your Responses
Even the most routine tasks can seem difficult when a person is confused and disoriented. Remember that agitation is a normal reaction to these emotions. If a person seems upset, try to figure out what’s causing their stress and remember that it might not “make sense” to you.
Take bathing and showering, for example. These can be stressful activities for a person with Alzheimer’s for several reasons. The lighting is harsh, they might feel cold and people often associate nakedness with vulnerability. Sometimes, even just having help with a task like this can feel embarrassing and difficult to handle.
In all tasks of daily living, allow the person to do as much on their own as they can safely manage. You can be nearby to offer assistance but try not to step in unless it’s necessary. Keep interference to a minimum and restrict it to safety and hygiene issues.
When the person you’re caring for does become upset, start by talking about it. Ask them what’s wrong and remember that you might have to pay attention to their body language as much as their words. Communication is more difficult for those with Alzheimer’s, but with patience and understanding, you can still have good conversations with your friend or relative. We’ll go into that in more detail next.
Talking with Someone Who Has Alzheimer’s
Alzheimer’s disease affects a person’s brain, which can also affect their communication. A thought may be clear in their head, but come out as gibberish when they try to talk to you. Remember that this difficulty in communicating is just as hard for the person you’re talking to as it is for you. Here are some tips for having a positive conversation with someone with Alzheimer’s:
Keep a Level Tone and Simplify Your Responses
People with Alzheimer’s are confused and often anxious, but they’re still adults. Use the same tone of voice as you’d use with anyone else. Simplify your sentences – one noun and one verb is a good rule of thumb – but don’t condescend.
Make Sure They’re Paying Attention
Make sure that they’re engaged with you before you start talking. A person with Alzheimer’s is easily taken by surprise, so prepare them for a conversation by meeting their gaze and using their name. Once they’re looking at you, start the conversation:
- “Mom? It’s time for lunch.”
- “Hey, Uncle Dan. We’re going to see your doctor. Can I help you put your shoes on?”
Give the person plenty of time to answer your questions. Keep in mind that Alzheimer’s disease makes it increasingly difficult to form sentences.
Be patient and don’t finish someone’s sentences for them, unless they seem upset at not being able to remember a word. In that case, provide it as a suggestion, not a correction.
Don’t Correct Them
Likewise, if the person expresses a false belief, don’t correct them. It can be upsetting to hear your mother say that she spoke to her husband last night when he has been gone for years, but correcting her won’t help. In her mind, she may very well have spoken with her husband last night, as her memory is starting to become fuzzy. Simply accept what the person says and move on. Their beliefs may be completely different tomorrow.
Getting Help for Yourself and Your Relative or Friend
Sometimes, knowing how to help someone with Alzheimer’s means knowing when you can’t do it alone. Most people with Alzheimer’s disease eventually need more help than their family and friends can provide. When that time comes, the most helpful thing you can do is find a good dementia care community.
Memory care, which supports individuals with dementia and Alzheimer’s care, has come a long way in recent years. There are communities out there where people with Alzheimer’s live comfortable and fulfilling lives.
Alzheimer’s care in Texas includes the Valeo™ memory care neighborhood at Spring Creek in Plano. Here, residents enjoy engaging programming designed specifically for people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
Life at Spring Creek is designed around the four components of wellness: physical, social, intellectual and spiritual. Everyone’s interests and values are honored, and every individual is respected for who they are: someone who has built a lifetime of knowledge and experience.
Texas memory care doesn’t have to be all about management. At Spring Creek, it’s about enjoyment and living every day to the fullest. Contact us for more information on our community and how we can help you and your relative or friend with Alzheimer’s.