Pella Chronicle

February 11, 2013

Living with a Loved One with Alzheimer’s Disease

Nancy Hamilton
Hearthstone, a Ministry of WesleyLife

Pella — An important component to successfully maintain relationships with our loved ones who have Alzheimer’s Disease is having an understanding of how Alzheimer’s Disease changes the people we love. The more we know about the disease, the more understanding we bring to our daily lives with our loved one.  

Alzheimer’s disease is an illness of the brain. It causes large numbers of nerve cells in the brain to die. This affects a person’s ability to remember things and think clearly. People with Alzheimer’s Disease become forgetful and easily confused. They may have a hard time concentrating and behave in a way which is unusual for them.  It is important to remember the disease, not the person, causes these changes.  

Alzheimer’s Disease consists of three main stages: mild, moderate and severe.  If a person has mild Alzheimer’s Disease, they often have some memory loss and small changes in  their personality. They may forget recent events or the names of familiar people or things.  During the middle stage, memory loss and confusion become more obvious.  People have more trouble organizing, planning and following instructions. In the last phase of Alzheimer’s disease, people often need support with all their daily living needs.

Communication is often hard for people with Alzheimer’s Disease because they have trouble remembering things. They may struggle or forget what they want to say. You may feel impatient and wish they could just say what they want, but they can’t.   Sometimes people have trouble finding the right word when speaking or difficulty understanding what words mean. They may also lose their train-of-thought when talking and get frustrated if communication isn’t working.   

To connect with your loved one who may be struggling with communication, make eye contact to get his or her attention and be sure to call them by their name. Be aware of your tone and how loud your voice is.  Encourage two-way communication by asking questions.   Having a warm, loving, matter-of-fact manner can help you connect with him or her.  Although it may be difficult, be patient with angry outbursts; remember it is the illness “talking”.  If you become frustrated, take a timeout for yourself.

Changes in personality and behavior of our loved ones with Alzheimer’s Disease is also difficult to experience.  You may see him or her getting upset, worried and angry more easily. Try focusing their attention on a favorite snack, object or activity.

Evenings are hard for many people with Alzheimer’s Disease.  Some may become restless or irritable around dinnertime. This is often called “sundowning.” To help with this, assist your loved one in  getting exercise each day and limit naps.  Plan activities that use more energy early in the day such as bathing or the largest meal around lunch.

Getting Support

Some caregivers need help when their loved one is in the early stages of the disease while others look for assistance when the person is in the later stages.  No matter the stage, it is okay to seek support whenever you may need it.  This can be support to help your loved one remain independent at home or support for the changes you as the caregiver may be experiencing.  

Given the progression of Alzheimer’s Disease, there may be a time your loved one requires more assistance to maintain their independence in a secure environment.  A home care professional can provide light housekeeping, companionship or health services.  Adult day services can provide a safe environment with engaging activities and team members who pay attention to the unique needs of persons with Alzheimer’s Disease.  Adult day services also provides a break for caregivers— so that you can return to responsibilities with a refreshed focus.

Connecting with people in similar situations while gaining a better understanding of the disease is often beneficial to caregivers. Hearthstone offers a free monthly Alzheimer’s Support Group on the first Friday of each month.   

If you are interested in learning more about Alzheimer’s Disease,  the National Institutes of Health and the Alzheimer’s Association are great online resources.

Source: National Institute on Aging