Being an Alzheimer's caregiver is hard work that requires a lot of knowledge and many skills for getting along and for connecting with the person. Here are some tips to help you out on your caregiving journey:
1. Don't Be in Denial: It's only natural to be in denial when a loved one begins to show signs of dementia, but that only prevents the person from getting a diagnosis, starting treatment and planning for the future.
2. Don't Ask, "Do You Remember?" Of course they can't remember. If they could remember, they wouldn't be diagnosed with dementia. Asking if they remember some person or event could make them frustrated.
3. Do Interact With the Person at His or Her Level: You may want to interact with the person the way you always have, but that isn't going to be possible. Instead, figure out at what age they appear to be behaving, then connect with them at that level.
4. To Connect With People Who Have Alzheimer's, Put Something Meaningful in Their Hand: This is a valuable tip provided by Tom and Karen Brenner in their book, You Say Goodbye and We Say Hello: The Montessori Method for Positive Dementia Care. You may have to experiment some to find out what is meaningful to any specific person.
5. To Connect With People With Late-Stage Alzheimer's,Try Introducing Them to Children, Pets, Music or Art: These four activities will often reach people in the late stages of the illness -- even if they hardly talk anymore.
6. Don't Argue, Correct or Disagree: You can't win an argument with a person who has dementia, so don't even try. Neither should you contradict them. It will make them dig in their heels even more strongly.
7. Don't Bring up Topics That May Upset the Person: If you know your loved one will get upset if you talk about politics, for example, don't start the conversation in the first place. It will probably lead to a battle you don't want to have.
8. Do Quickly Change the Subject If the Person Does Get Upset: If the person does get upset one of the best things you can do is redirect their attention to something else, preferable something pleasant.
9. Don't Quit Visiting When the Person Doesn't Know Who You Are: Just because your loved one does not recognize you doesn't mean they have no feelings. People with Alzheimer's may enjoy being visited even if they don't know precisely who the visitor is.
10. Do Take Care of Yourself: Being an Alzheimer's caregiver is hard work. The gold standard book on Alzheimer's caregiving isn't entitled The 36-Hour Day for nothing. Take good care of yourself for your benefit and for the good of the person for whom you're caring. You can't be an effective, compassionate caregiver if you're exhausted and burned out all the time.
The list of tips for Alzheimer's caregivers could go on and on, but mastering these 10 will go a long way toward improving the care you provide to your loved one. It will also help improve your own health and well-being.
Marie Marley is the award-winning author of Come Back Early Today: A Memoir of Love, Alzheimer's and Joy. Her website, ComeBackEarlyToday.com, contains a wealth of information for Alzheimer's Caregivers.