My aunt was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease several years ago. She was able to remain in her own home for a while, but she moved in with my husband and I almost two years ago. We are her only remaining family members and are happy to take care of her.
Shortly after my aunt came to live with us, I left my job. We felt like it wasn’t safe for her to stay alone, and it was the best decision at the time. It’s gotten tougher to keep up with her recently as she’s started to wander from home. My husband and I are both sleep deprived and tired. We need to figure out a better way to do this so we don’t put our own health at risk.
Do you have any suggestions for us that don’t involve moving my aunt somewhere else? We aren’t ready for that.
Melissa in Grand Haven, MI
Care for the Alzheimer’s Caregiver
We hear this question so often from family members who are caring for a loved one. It’s especially difficult when the senior has Alzheimer’s disease. The challenges of caregiving for someone with a memory impairment are unique and oftentimes demanding. For many caregivers, the role feels overwhelming when their family member begins wandering.
Because an estimated six in ten adults with Alzheimer’s will wander, it’s a situation many families find themselves in. Caregivers often say it feels like their loved one can go days without sleeping. Since it sounds like you might feel this way, I do have some advice on decreasing the risk for wandering. If you can first manage that difficult behavior, it might be easier to practice healthy self-care.
- Structured days: People with memory loss often respond better to structured days. Experts recommend rising at the same time each morning, serving meals on a schedule, and having a consistent bedtime.
- Meaningful activity: Boredom is believed to be a potential risk for wandering. If you plan productive, engaging activities for your aunt, she might feel more satisfied and be less likely to wander. Arts and craft projects, housework help, or moderate fitness activities are other good options.
- Less evening stimulus: Try clustering your aunt’s outings and physical fitness to the early part of the day and wind down in the afternoon and evening. That may help promote sleep.
- Helpful technology: If you don’t already have one, it might give you peace of mind to install a home security system with door sensors. You might sleep easier knowing an alarm will sound if your aunt tries to leave. Also consider providing her with a GPS tracking pendant or watch. In the event she does wander, you’ll be able to locate her quickly and easily.
It’s also important to take care of yourself while you are caring for your aunt. Family members often think self-care is a luxury they don’t have time for. Remind yourself that your aunt likely needs your help for a long time to come and protecting your own health is vital.
- Connect with a support group: Whether it’s in person or online, support groups are a great outlet. Talking through your situation with peers who can relate will help. Other members might even recommend local caregiver resources you weren’t even aware of.
- Eat healthy: Nutrition is a non-negotiable for your aunt, as well as for you and your husband. Fortunately, meal delivery services make that a little easier. Consider trying one for several meals a week and supplement with your own cooking in between. Cooking meals in batches and freezing them also makes mealtime easier.
- Explore respite care options: Another recommendation is to explore local assisted living and memory care communities to see which ones offer respite. These short-term stays are designed to give caregivers a break. You could take advantage of this program once or twice a month to give you and your husband a break. Your aunt would receive the same care and support as a long-term resident of the community.
I hope these suggestions help make this time easier and healthier for your entire family!
Respite Care at Heritage
With communities throughout Michigan and one in Indiana, Heritage is a leading provider of care for adults with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. That includes respite services. Call the Heritage community nearest you to learn more today!