My dad and I have been my mom’s primary caregivers since she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s over three years ago. None of us were familiar with the disease or the unique challenges it would present. It’s been a real learning curve.
My dad and I are struggling to cope with a profound sense of loss, even though my mom is still with us. It seems like every day there is another change in Mom or something else she’s no longer able to do for herself. It’s so tough to witness this decline.
Do you have any suggestions for my dad and me? We want to be strong for my mom, but it’s getting more and more difficult.
Alysha in Midland, MI
Tips for Coping When a Loved One Has Alzheimer’s
When a person has Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, their family and friends all feel the impact of the diagnosis. Alzheimer’s is frequently referred to as the long goodbye because the disease slowly robs a person of their verbal skills, memory, and independence. Like you and your dad, loved ones of people with Alzheimer’s often say they feel a deep sense of sadness, helplessness, and frustration as the disease progresses.
While the physical demands of caregiving can cause loved ones to feel exhausted, the mental toll can be equally trying. These ideas might be helpful to you and your dad:
- Join a caregiver support group: Caring for someone you love when they have Alzheimer’s is different than caring for those with other types of life-limiting illnesses. Connecting with peers in a similar situation might be beneficial. The understanding and shared experience may bring you and your dad a sense of comfort. Some people might feel more comfortable joining a virtual support group than an in-person meeting. The Alzheimer’s Association has some virtual support group ideas for you to consider.
- Live in the moment: Of all the suggestions listed, this one might be the most beneficial but also the most difficult to carry out. Instead of focusing on what your mom has lost, try to live in the present. Meet your mom where she is in this journey, which can be different every day.
- Take a break: When you are caring for a person with Alzheimer’s, the days can be hectic and stressful. Try to take time for yourself on a regular basis, even if it’s just to have lunch with a friend or take a quick walk.
- Learn to meditate: Many people find that meditation helps bring them inner peace during difficult times. If you haven’t tried it yet, there are a variety of options online for beginners. Watch Beginner’s Guide to Meditation and Guided Meditation for Seniors, Older Adults to get started.
- Try music therapy: Music offers therapeutic value to people of all ages. For people with dementia and their loved ones, it can be a way to connect after communication skills are impaired. Playing happy music might be a way for the three of you to enjoy your time together.
I hope some of these suggestions are useful to you and your dad, Alysha. I’m wishing your family all the best.
Specialized Dementia Care at Heritage Senior Communities
When a senior has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia, specialized care can help them live their best quality of life. From our person-centered approach to care to an environment that promotes independence, Heritage Senior Communities are leaders in the field of dementia care. Call the community nearest you to learn more and schedule a personal visit soon!
My mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease a few years ago. Over the last year or so she has started experiencing sundowner’s syndrome. It has gotten worse recently, and she often tries to exit our house on her own when she is agitated.
When we changed our clocks last spring for daylight saving time, I noticed my mom’s sundowning worsened. I think it was because it stayed light outside for so much longer. It was so difficult to get her to wind down and go to sleep for months after we set our clocks ahead.
As we are heading toward the end of daylight saving time, I’m wondering what to expect now that it will get dark earlier. Is there anything I can do to make this transition go more smoothly?
Any suggestions are greatly appreciated!
Cindy in Saginaw, MI
The Impact of the Time Change on Alzheimer’s
Good observation! We don’t talk about this issue enough. As you’ve already discovered, a routine is essential for adults with memory impairment. Changes in their daily schedule, including time changes, can be disruptive and lead to anxiety, restlessness, and agitation. We’ve witnessed it in the memory care neighborhoods at Heritage Senior Communities. In response, we’ve taken steps to try to minimize the impact of the time change every six months.
One is that Alzheimer’s disease disrupts the body’s circadian rhythm. So, it makes sense that the time change could exacerbate the behaviors associated with sundowner’s syndrome. A few ideas to try to help minimize sundowning symptoms all year long, including during time changes, are:
- Control the interior lighting: One suggestion is to control the lighting inside your home. If you are trying to prevent your loved one from falling asleep or going to bed too early, close the blinds and turn all of the lights on inside. It might help trick the body into thinking it’s still daytime. This may also help decrease agitation and pacing, which are common among adults with Alzheimer’s during the evenings.
- Structure the day carefully: When you are caring for a family member with Alzheimer’s, how you plan your day is important. If you notice your mom gets tired and falls asleep in the late afternoon, rethink how you are structuring the day. It might be better to schedule appointments and activity for morning, so you can avoid late-day naps that might make bedtime more challenging. A quick nap earlier in the day might be better.
- Get regular exercise: Physical fitness activities are good for the body, mind, and soul. For adults with Alzheimer’s, it is also useful for preventing or reducing the agitation and anxiety commonly associated with the disease. It may help your mom feel more relaxed and comfortable throughout the day, reducing the incidences of sundowning. Try taking a 15-minute walk in the morning and doing some gentle stretching in the afternoon. Both are good for older adults and their caregivers!
I hope these tips provide you with some ideas to make the time change go more smoothly!
Bookmark the Heritage Blog
We know caregivers are always searching for information and resources to help them support a senior loved one. That’s why we encourage you to bookmark this blog and stop back often. We share new articles each week on topics ranging from evaluating a senior living community to creating meaningful days for an adult with dementia.
My grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease several years ago. At first the changes were small and easy to navigate. She was a little forgetful, so we learned to write everything down for her. She also had trouble with tasks like writing checks and grocery lists. Between my mom and I, we were able to cover those challenges.
In the last year, however, my grandma’s disease has advanced and it’s tough to communicate with her. She’s always been an important part of my life, and I need to find ways to maintain our connection. I believe she needs it too.
Do you have any tips to make communication easier? I don’t want to overwhelm her with constant chattering, but I do want to help her feel wanted and needed.
Mary in Williamsburg, MI
Tips for Communicating with a Senior Who Has Alzheimer’s
This comes up often when I’m helping families who have a loved one with Alzheimer’s in their search for specialized dementia care. Both written and verbal communication skills are impacted by the disease, sometimes even in the early stages. It’s frustrating for the senior and those who love them.
I can offer a few tips that might make it easier for you to have a nice conversation with your grandmother:
- Control the environment: Find a quiet, calm place for the two of you during your visits. Adults with Alzheimer’s often have trouble processing an overly hectic environment. Many struggle to concentrate when their environment is loud or busy, and that can lead to anxiety and agitation. Sit together in a quiet corner. Turn the television off.
- Stay positive: While it can be difficult to witness the changes Alzheimer’s causes in a loved one, do your best to stay positive. Be mindful of your expressions and body language. Try to smile and project a cheerful disposition.
- Be patient: If your grandmother still has some verbal skills but takes a little longer to get words out, be patient and don’t interrupt. Don’t rush her or talk over her. If it becomes obvious that she needs a little prompting to avoid getting too upset, do so in a kind, conversational way. Resist the urge to take over completely.
- Talk slowly: Many of us speak too quickly or use a lot of slang in our language. For someone with memory impairment, that can be difficult to understand. Try to slow down and speak clearly. Keep sentences brief. These all make it easier for a person with Alzheimer’s to follow along with the conversation.
I hope these tips help you, Mary. Please feel free to contact the nearest Heritage community if you have more questions or to learn more about specialized dementia care.
Most people have heard of Alzheimer’s, but many only know that it causes memory loss. While memory is impacted by this disease, it’s much more complex than that. It can cause a variety of challenges, including behaviors like wandering that can put a senior’s safety at risk.
Understanding how to separate fact from fiction about Alzheimer’s is important, especially for adult children caring for aging parents. Here are a few misconceptions about this disease.
#1: Alzheimer’s isn’t all that common.
False: According to Alzheimer’s Association research, just under 11% of the population age 65 and older has Alzheimer’s. By the age of 85, the percentage climbs to just over 33%.
#2: Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are the same disease.
False: Alzheimer’s is just one of many different types of dementia. It is, however, the most common form. Estimates are that it accounts for 60 to 80% of all dementia diagnoses.
#3: Alzheimer’s is hereditary.
True and False: If you’ve watched a senior loved one struggle with Alzheimer’s, it’s understandable that you would worry about potential genetic links to the disease. Though no one knows the exact cause of Alzheimer’s, the disease isn’t considered hereditary, with the exception of early-onset Alzheimer’s. Scientists do believe genes may play a role. If your parent or sibling has Alzheimer’s disease, your risk is three times greater than someone without a family history. It’s unknown if that is due to shared lifestyle factors or something else.
Early-onset Alzheimer’s does have a strong hereditary component. Research shows family history is the only known risk factor for this type of the disease.
#4: Alzheimer’s only affects the brain.
False: As a neurodegenerative disease, Alzheimer’s impacts the entire body. As the disease progresses, symptoms can include memory loss, impaired judgement, vision changes, loss of mobility, and a decline in verbal skills.
#5: Only older people develop Alzheimer’s.
False: While age does increase the risk, this disease can occur at younger ages. Early-onset, for example, can begin to develop when people are in their 30s and 40s.
#6: No one knows what causes the disease.
True: Unfortunately, researchers haven’t been able to determine what causes Alzheimer’s despite decades of hard work. Recently, a growing amount of evidence seems to show that lifestyle might play a role. By eating a well-balanced diet and exercising regularly, you may be able to lower the odds of developing Alzheimer’s. Not smoking is another way researchers think people can reduce their risk.
Memory Care Supports Quality of Life
When a family member is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, loved ones often assume their elder can no longer enjoy a good quality of life. At Heritage Senior Communities, our specialized dementia care program helps seniors with dementia live their best quality of life at every stage of the disease. By utilizing a person-centered approach to care, team members help residents with dementia work with their remaining abilities instead of focusing on those they’ve lost.
Call the community nearest you to learn more about dementia care at Heritage Senior Communities!
After being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, some senior parents move in with their adult child. While many know it’s likely a short-term solution, it can give family members more time to explore options and create a plan of care they feel confident in.
As the senior’s disease progresses, new challenges arise. From bathroom safety to wandering, it’s important to create an environment that addresses common struggles people with Alzheimer’s experience.
Home Safety Tips
In the earlier stages of the disease, you’ll probably need to modify one or all of your bathrooms to make them safer for your aging parent. A few suggestions to consider include:
- Mounting grab bars: Dementia can cause balance problems, including unsteadiness rising from a chair or the toilet. It’s a good idea to install sturdy grab bars near the toilet. You may also want to take down towel bars so the older adult isn’t tempted to pull on them. Because towel bars aren’t meant to hold much weight, they may pull away from the wall, resulting in the senior falling. It’s often helpful to add a grab bar near the senior’s bedside, too.
- Installing a raised toilet seat: Another safety feature that might help is a raised toilet seat. They are fairly inexpensive and easy to install. For adults who are unsteady on their feet, they help minimize the risk of falling while using the toilet. Most drug stores and home improvement stores sell them for under $100.
- Putting down nonskid mats: Throw rugs can be a fall hazard in any room. Pack them away while the senior is in residence. To help keep the senior safe getting in and out of the shower, especially with wet feet, put down nonskid mats. You can use them both inside the shower and outside on the bathroom floor.
If you store cleaning products or medications in the bathroom, add a lock to the cabinet door. As Alzheimer’s progresses, an adult might mistake these products for something else and ingest them. The same is true for cabinets where you keep cleaning products, knives, or other potentially hazardous household items.
Wandering from Home
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, six in ten adults with Alzheimer’s will wander from home at some point. Unfortunately, once a senior wanders they are more likely to do it again. That’s why it’s important to plan for the worst.
If you have a home security system, make sure it sounds an alert when an exterior door is opened. Adjust the volume if needed so the chime can be heard across the home. If your system doesn’t include cameras around the home’s exterior, it’s probably a good idea to add them.
In the event your loved one does wander, whether it’s from your home or another location, you’ll want to have a GPS tracking device that allows you to quickly locate them. Options have increased in recent years. Most are discreet enough not to be harmful to the senior’s self-esteem, such as:
- Pocket devices: iTraq and PocketFinder are small devices designed to track everything from car keys to luggage. If a loved one has memory loss, you can drop these in their pocket when they are getting dressed in the morning. In the event of an emergency, you can track the user’s location from your smartphone or laptop.
- GPS watch: Another option to explore is a GPS watch. There are a variety of models at different price points. The HandsFree Health Smart Watch is highly rated by reviewers. In addition to GPS tracking, it also offers two-way communication. That’s a nice feature for communicating with a loved one who is lost and frightened.
- SmartSole: This very discreet GPS tracking system slides into an older adult’s shoe. It’s trimmable so you can fit it to the senior’s shoe size. No one will even know they are wearing it. You can track their location in five-minute increments and even receive an alert if they move out of a predetermined geozone.
One final suggestion is to create an Alzheimer’s Wandering Kit. If the worst happens and you can’t locate your loved one, this information will allow emergency responders to quickly get to work.
I’m the primary caregiver for my husband, who has Alzheimer’s. Among the many challenges the disease presents is eating. He struggles to manipulate utensils but gets upset if I try to help him. I need to come up with some foods that are nutritious but easy for my husband to eat independently. Do you have any suggestions for healthy foods to serve adults with Alzheimer’s?
The other challenge I’m trying to overcome is how to encourage my husband to eat. I just can’t get him to sit down and eat at mealtimes. Because of it, he continues to lose weight.
I’m in need of some good advice, so any tips you can share would be much appreciated!
Alice in Williamsport, MI
Menu Planning When a Loved One Has Alzheimer’s
What great questions! We often hear these from family caregivers. Because Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease, nutrition challenges continue to worsen as time goes by.
First, let’s tackle why your husband might not be eating. In addition to being frustrated by his lack of manual dexterity like you mentioned, your husband might be experiencing vision changes.
Adults with Alzheimer’s often develop problems with depth perception and color discrimination. That can make it tough to see food served on a plate or bowl of similar color. Diced peaches served in a pale pink or yellow bowl, for example, can be tough to see.
Other common reasons adults with Alzheimer’s disease might not seem interested in eating include:
- A distracting dining environment, such as one that is cluttered or has background noise
- A loss of sense of smell or taste
- A lack of interest in food due to medication side effects or undiagnosed depression
- Dentures that no longer fit properly or a problem with a tooth that makes chewing painful
A few steps you can take to encourage your husband’s interest in food might be:
- Changing the dining environment: Create a peaceful, clutter-free place for him to eat. If he responds positively to music, play it softly in the background. It also helps to use brightly colored dishes that make food easier to distinguish. The Red Plate Study at Boston University found people with Alzheimer’s ate 25 percent more food if it was presented on red dinnerware.
- Using adaptive dinnerware: Talk with your husband’s primary care physician or an occupational therapist about adaptive dinnerware. Plate guards and food bumpers, for example, make it easier for food to be scooped up with a utensil. Large utensils with grips also help.
- Utilizing aromatherapy: Since taste can fade with Alzheimer’s, serving more flavorful foods may help. Going a little heavier on seasonings might offer an aromatherapeutic value that pumps up appetite. While it might taste like too much seasoning to you, someone with Alzheimer’s might find it just right.
- Encouraging exercise: Engaging in some form of exercise each day may help stimulate your husband’s appetite. Talk with his primary care doctor for advice on what types of fitness activities might be safest.
- Scheduling a dental appointment: If your husband hasn’t seen the dentist in a while, it’s probably a good idea to schedule an appointment. The dentist can check for any issues that might impact eating.
As far as easy-to-eat foods to serve your husband, “Healthy Finger Foods for Seniors with Dementia” is a great resource to read and bookmark. It has a variety of ideas ranging from French toast sticks to smoothies.
I hope this information is helpful to you and your husband!