When a senior loved one has Alzheimer’s disease, family members often pitch in to help with their care. It can be a rewarding experience. Whether it is a spouse, parent, or grandparent, providing support for a loved one helps you feel as if you are making a difference.
But caregiving can also be physically and emotionally exhausting. The unique challenges caused by the disease can leave family caregivers fatigued and worn out. It’s fairly common for loved ones to begin experiencing health issues of their own as a result.
Added to that is the emotional journey Alzheimer’s takes families on. Dementia experts often call it “the long good-bye.” It’s a fitting description of a disease that slowly robs a person of their health, independence, and memory.
The Alzheimer’s Caregiver Struggle
The demands of caring for an adult with Alzheimer’s are unique. Whether it’s worries about wandering or issues related to memory, loved ones face a variety of challenges. It can lead to feelings of uncertainty and loneliness.
Families may get embarrassed about behaviors they aren’t aware are common when a person has Alzheimer’s, such as angry outbursts in public or inappropriate comments. While friends may sympathize, they likely can’t understand and relate unless they’ve been through it.
The result is that between 40 and 70 percent of family caregivers find themselves battling depression. One way to better cope with the rollercoaster of emotions many caregivers experience is connecting with peers. Joining a caregiver support group allows you to do just that.
Benefits of Joining a Caregiver Support Group
Support groups give caregivers a judgement-free place to share guilt, fears, and frustrations. It can also be a forum for asking questions and obtaining suggestions from people who’ve faced similar challenges. You can join a support group that meets in person, such as one hosted by a specialized dementia care community or senior center, or an online group.
Some caregivers prefer an in-person meeting because of the face-to-face interaction it offers. It can be a meaningful way to connect with caregiving peers. Others are more comfortable with the anonymity of an online support group or forum. The 24/7 accessibility makes it easier for busy caregivers to participate. Caregivers can post their questions or challenges in chat forums or on message boards any time of day or night and get advice.
Here are a few online caregiver support groups to explore:
- ALZConnected: Created by the Alzheimer’s Association, this forum gives dementia caregivers access to helpful information and resources. They also host message boards and chat rooms dedicated to specific topics related to Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.
- Family Caregiver Alliance: This organization is for all types of caregivers. Through this website, people can connect with groups that support everything from cancer patients to struggling spouses.
- com: On this site, you will find resources and forums on a variety of topics of interest to caregivers. They range from where to buy adult briefs at the best price to how to plan for a loved one’s move to senior living.
Specialized Dementia Care at Heritage
If you are caring for a loved one who has Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, exploring the options for assistance in your local area is important. For those who live in Michigan, Heritage Senior Communities may be of interest. We invite you to schedule a visit and personal tour of a specialized dementia care program at a location near you!
My 76-year-old father moved in with my family earlier this spring. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s just over a year ago and isn’t safe living alone any longer. I’m slowly learning how to work around the changes the disease has caused and to improve his health and quality of life.
I’ve come up with some activities that allow him to feel productive despite his Alzheimer’s, such as helping me around the house and in the garden. When he was living alone, he skipped a lot of meals and lost a considerable amount of weight. While I’ve found ways to encourage him to eat, I’m still struggling to get him to drink water.
Dad’s doctor told me he was dehydrated during his last appointment and that I need to encourage him to drink often throughout the day. I think the underlying issue is my dad seems to be afraid of water. Does that happen with Alzheimer’s? My husband helps him with his showers and said it’s becoming increasingly difficult.
Do you have any advice for us?
Kristie in Sutton’s Bay, MI
Water, Hydration, and Alzheimer’s Disease
What a great observation! It is fairly common for a person with Alzheimer’s to develop a fear of water. Water-related tasks, such as filling a glass of water or showering, can result in anxiety and agitation. Just the sound of water running can cause fear. But it’s obviously very important that your dad stays hydrated, which can be even more difficult during the summer.
Here are a few suggestions that might be helpful:
- Be mindful when you fill his water glass: If your dad has developed a phobia about water, it might help to fill his water glass when he isn’t within hearing range. Add lemon, cucumber, or berries to the glass for a bit of a distraction. Using a dark-colored glass might also be helpful in disguising the water.
- Provide frequent reminders: Since people with memory loss may forget to drink water, prompting them to drink throughout the day might help. Don’t wait for your dad to say he is thirsty. Just tell him it’s time for a drink. It might help if you drink water while encouraging him to do so.
- Serve foods that hydrate: Also remember that many fruits and vegetables have a high water content. This makes it easier for adults with Alzheimer’s to increase hydration. Leafy greens, melon, berries, tomatoes, celery, cauliflower, and cucumber are just a few. Soup and broth are other good choices.
- Review his medications: Some medications have a diuretic effect that can increase the risk for dehydration. Talk with your dad’s pharmacist to determine if any of his prescriptions or over-the-counter medications might be an issue. If you find one that is, ask his primary care doctor for advice on how much fluid he should be taking in to compensate for it. There might even be another medication that can be substituted.
I hope a few of these tips are helpful to you, Kristie! Best wishes to you and your dad.
Dementia Care at Heritage Senior Communities
If someone you love has Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia, our Specialized Dementia Care program might be a solution. From person-centered care to guided social interactions, the program is designed to allow people with dementia to live their best quality of life. Call the closest Heritage community on this list to learn more!
Pets are the heart of many families. Their unconditional love and companionship boosts the spirit while helping people live more purposeful days. For older adults, a pet can fill a void left behind when adult children are grown and gone or following the death of a spouse.
Having a furry friend to talk to throughout the day and to snuggle up on the couch with in the evening can combat loneliness. For adults with Alzheimer’s, the benefits are substantial. Pets help to reduce feelings of stress and anxiety that are unfortunately common in those with most forms of dementia.
Pets and Seniors: A Happy, Healthy Partnership
A study conducted at the University of Missouri revealed that seniors who own dogs enjoy a better quality of life. The stronger the bond between the older adult and their four-legged friend, the greater the benefits. Researchers say this is because people who feel a strong emotional attachment to their pet are more inclined to take good care of them. That provides a sense of purpose, which is sometimes difficult to find, especially for those with memory impairment.
Seniors with pets also tend to be more active, including people who have dementia. Those who have dogs and cats are more likely to get up and move. That helps with weight management, stamina, and core strength. It’s a combination that might aid in fall prevention, a risk for people with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia.
Research shows the very act of petting an animal can lower blood pressure. The repetitive nature of stroking an animal’s fur can be very soothing. If you are helping a loved one find a pet as a companion, here are a few things to consider.
Adopting a Pet Later in Life
- Budget: The first thing to think about before adopting a pet is the senior’s financial situation. Some breeds of cats and dogs are known for having health conditions that cause higher vet bills. Grooming expenses for long-haired dogs or cats can also leave a dent in the budget.
- Space: Also think about the space a pet might require. For example, a small dog can make a few laps around the living room on a snowy day to work off excess energy. By contrast, a large dog will still need to go for a walk outside no matter the weather. Also take into account whether the long-range plan for a loved one with dementia might include moving to a memory care community. You’ll want to learn more about the potential communities’ size restrictions for pets.
- Fall risk: As Alzheimer’s progresses, an older adult’s peripheral vision might be damaged. That means being mindful of the fall hazard a cat or dog might create. A medium-sized dog might be better than a small one that can get underfoot or a large one that might knock the person off their feet.
- Time: Finally, think about the time commitment. While your loved one might be able to assist in caring for the pet now, the chores may one day fall on you. You will also likely be more involved in caring for your family member when that time comes. Consider who may be able to pitch in.
One last idea is to find out if any local organizations, such as 4 Paws for Ability, train service dogs to support adults with Alzheimer’s. They teach dogs how to assist with everyday tasks and to redirect potentially unsafe behaviors.
Dementia Care at Heritage
Heritage Senior Communities offers specialized dementia care at a variety of locations throughout Michigan. We invite you to call the community nearest you to learn more or schedule a visit. One of our experienced team members can answer questions and take you on a private tour!
We all misplace or forget things from time to time. And some people just aren’t great at remembering names, even though they recognize faces. It’s typically not anything to worry about. When memory loss begins to impact daily life, however, it might be something more serious. Spouses are often the first to recognize the small signs that something isn’t right with their partner.
Memory loss that impairs a person’s ability to carry on a conversation or stick to their daily routine may indicate an infection, a vitamin deficiency, thyroid problems, or some form of dementia. While there are many types of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease is the most common.
How Common Is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s accounts for as many as 80% of all cases of dementia. It is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, more than 5 million people in this country have Alzheimer’s. That number is expected to reach 14 million by 2050.
While many people know one of the classic signs of Alzheimer’s is forgetfulness, other red flags aren’t as well known. If you are concerned a spouse might be in the early stages of the disease, review this list of symptoms.
Recognizing Common Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease
- Memory loss: This is the most commonly recognized sign of Alzheimer’s. An adult with the disease may initially have trouble recalling the information or names they’ve most recently learned. It could be a new neighbor’s name or the date of their hair appointment. A spouse might find themselves repeatedly answering the same questions as a result.
- Difficulty communicating: Another change that often occurs in the earlier stages of Alzheimer’s is communication problems. A loss of verbal or written communication skills are two examples. Other communication struggles include calling objects by the wrong name and difficulty maintaining a conversation.
- Making mistakes with money: This is a common, but frequently missed, red flag. A person with undiagnosed Alzheimer’s may neglect to pay some bills while paying others several times. They are also more likely to fall victim to a financial scam or make purchases for expensive items they don’t need.
- Change in disposition: If an always happy and kind senior has become ill-tempered or overly suspicious, he or she likely needs further evaluation. While it might be caused by a different struggle, a change in disposition can also be an early sign of Alzheimer’s.
- Avoiding people: When an older adult first begins to suspect something is wrong, they may not want to admit it. Some even try to hide it. Embarrassment or the fear of being “discovered” can cause them to avoid friends and loved ones. They may stop going to religious services or even skip family celebrations.
- Getting lost: Drivers who have Alzheimer’s disease often become lost going to or coming from familiar destinations. It’s one reason physicians suggest people with the disease avoid driving. If a spouse is taking longer to run errands or returns flustered, you might want to have a gentle discussion about it.
Accepting that a spouse may have Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia can be difficult. It’s one reason families frequently delay talking about it. While the problem may be caused by another medical condition that mimics Alzheimer’s, such as a urinary tract infection, it’s important to have these concerns evaluated by a physician.
Heritage Memory Care Communities
Heritage is proud to be a leader in dementia care for seniors in Michigan and Indiana. From person-centered care to thoughtfully planned meals, our Specialized Dementia Care Communities are designed to support independence while also keeping residents safe. Call the community nearest you to learn more or schedule a private tour!
My dad has Alzheimer’s disease and recently moved in with me because it was becoming unsafe for him to live alone. While he still has a fairly good quality of life, his memory and judgment have declined.
As we head into planting season here in mid-Michigan, I’m considering having my dad garden with me. It’s a hobby I love and one that brings me such peace. I don’t want to give it up but I’m not sure how safe it is for my dad.
Julie in Saginaw, MI
Benefits of Gardening for Seniors with Alzheimer’s
Digging in the dirt is a great way to improve the quality of life for people of all ages. That includes people with most types of dementia, including Alzheimer’s. The very act of gardening boosts mood whether or not a plant eventually grows. During warmer weather, you’ll often find residents and team members of the dementia care programs at Heritage Senior Communities enjoying this popular pastime.
For adults with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, gardening can have lasting benefits. It can:
- Reduce pain, especially from arthritis
- Improve attention span
- Lower stress and agitation
- Decrease need for medications
- Improve strength and balance
- Help minimize fall risk
- Stimulate reminiscing
- Foster emotional wellness
Gardening Tips for Family Caregivers
A few suggestions to help you and your dad stay safe while also enjoying your time together in the garden are:
- Include in planning: Have your dad help pick out flowers and colors he likes. If he isn’t familiar with plant names or struggles with verbal skills, show him pictures from gardening magazines or websites. Encourage him to point out his favorites.
- Designate space: If possible, have a section or corner of the garden specifically for your father. Consider installing a raised plant bed or containers so it’s safer and easier for him to access his vegetables and flowers.
- Offer gentle reminders: Because adults with dementia typically have short-term memory loss, you’ll likely need to remind your dad when it’s time for certain tasks. Providing prompts to help him remember things like watering and fertilizing his area of the garden will be essential.
- Plan pathways carefully: Build the garden around paths that form a circle. By keeping the path through your garden away from exits or gates, you might be able to prevent your dad from wandering out of the backyard. As Alzheimer’s progresses, that’s a common safety concern for families.
- Incorporate benches: Be sure to place benches throughout the garden for your dad (and you!) to sit and rest. Because people with Alzheimer’s often struggle with mobility, having places to rest will be important.
- Add water features: Finally, consider including fountains and water features along the pathway if you can. Your dad will likely enjoy them. Water provides positive stimulation to the senses while also helping to calm agitation and stress.
Best Plants to Grow for People with Alzheimer’s
Here are some suggestions for choosing plants for your garden:
- Make sure to use only nontoxic plants. An adult with a memory impairment might try to eat pretty flowers that catch the eye. Check the Poison Control website for a list of harmful plants.
- Use a variety of colors and smells to spark your dad’s senses. If he suffers from allergies, be careful with those that have high pollen count or strong fragrance, such as lilies and hyacinths.
- Plant vegetables and herbs that you can pick together and use when preparing meals. Tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, basil, and parsley are all easy to grow in raised beds or containers.
- Add vibrant herbs like lavender and rosemary to your joint garden. When they bloom, bring them inside to use in vases or sachets. Both offer stress-relieving benefits for people with Alzheimer’s disease.
Our final tip is more for you than your dad. Remember how much time you will be able to devote to gardening and choose plants with maintenance requirements that match your availability.
Wishing you and your dad happy gardening adventures this summer!
My mother recently passed away after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease. It was such a tough period for her and everyone who loved her. She lived with my husband and me for 3 years before she moved to one of the wonderful Heritage dementia care communities. During her illness, I often wondered if there is anything I can do to prevent getting this disease. It was so difficult to watch her decline.
I’ve read articles that say Alzheimer’s might actually be a form of diabetes, but that the research is still inconclusive. Other information I’ve read says smoking might contribute to the disease. Then there are those that say exercise—both mental and physical—might be the key. My diet is pretty healthy and I’ve never been a smoker, but I’d like to know more about exercise.
Do you know of any credible research that shows a link between Alzheimer’s prevention and exercise?
Chris in Saginaw, MI
Lifestyle Factors and Alzheimer’s Prevention
First, my condolences on the loss of your mother. Alzheimer’s is a tough disease that impacts the entire family. After witnessing what your mother went through, it’s understandable that you would be concerned about your own risk.
Exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. We commonly associate it with helping to prevent or manage medical conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and even depression. But there is research that seems to indicate physical activity might play a role in preventing or delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.
It’s important to remember, however, that brain health is a complicated topic. While much of the science related to Alzheimer’s is not definitive, there is evidence that links cognitive health with an individual’s overall wellness. According to Harvard Medical School, practicing a healthy lifestyle might be one way to protect yourself. Researchers from the Alzheimer’s Research Foundation agree.
Since you mentioned exercise specifically, I’m sharing a few tips researchers think might impact brain health. If you haven’t been engaging in physical activity lately, it’s always a good idea to talk with your primary care physician before getting started.
- Combine cardio with strength training: Create an exercise regimen that incorporates both moderate aerobic activity with strength training. This combination not only helps protect brain health, but also reduces your risk for falls and increases flexibility and endurance. (As the years go by, we are all at higher risk of falling unless we stay active.)
- Aim for 150 minutes of exercise each week: Set a goal to engage in physical activities at least 150 minutes each week. Many find exercising 30 minutes 5 days a week a realistic schedule. And it doesn’t need to be 30 continuous minutes. You can break it up if you need to. You might want to jump-start the day with 15 minutes of aerobic activity in the morning, and then wind down with 15 minutes of yoga or Pilates towards the evening.
- Track your progress every day: Finally, hold yourself accountable. At the end of each day, document what type of physical activity you engaged in and for how long. It might help to find a workout buddy or two to help you stay motivated.
This article has more information about how to reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s by up to 50% with regular exercise.
I hope this information is useful, Chris!