CAREGIVER TIPS TO MAINTAIN QUALITY OF LIFE FOR ALZHEIMER'S PATIENTS
A caregiver must have patience and understanding to care for an Alzheimer’s patient. Annalise Forman, Director of Visiting Angels a home care company that helps seniors retain their independence in their own homes, offers some helpful tips to help maximize your loved one’s quality of life:
ESTABLISH A ROUTINE
Keep the care recipient’s routine as consistent as possible:
• Make a schedule for the care recipient’s daily care. Make sure to include personal care, household tasks and recreational activities that he or she enjoys.
• Post copies of the schedule and give copies of this routine to any other caregivers and stick to this schedule as closely as possible. Be specific. For example, “The care recipient enjoys coffee and toast immediately after getting up in the morning, around 9AM.”
• Establish waking and bedtime rituals. Keep the order of tasks and activities exactly the same every day.
• When traveling, try to maintain the schedule as close to what has become “normal” at home.
PRACTICE REALITY ORIENTATION
Always remember to orient the care recipient first thing, and often during the day:
• Use a wall calendar and begin each day by circling the date together.
• Speak the day of the week within your greeting. For example, “Good morning Dorothy, it is Tuesday, and a beautiful spring morning. Let’s have some breakfast.”
• Enjoy a daily newspaper together.
• Use seasonal décor. Change home accents as seasons change and display greeting cards and other visual clues around each holiday, including birthdays of loved ones.
• Choose serene, calming destinations like parks, libraries, and quiet restaurants, rather than noisy and busy places such as malls.
• In the home, post simple illustrations to help guide the care recipient to the proper doors, cabinets or drawers.
• If nobody is watching, turn down or turn off the TV!
• Play calming music that is familiar to the care recipient (more on this below).
• Morning is generally the most energetic time for seniors, so plan activities early in the day. Keep in mind the need for your care recipient to take breaks and re-orient. These breaks are a perfect time to encourage drinking fluids.
DON’T EXPECT TOO MUCH
• Realize that each Alzheimer’s care recipient has his or `her own unique set of limitations. Expecting too much will create stress that leads to frustration. Instead, offer help when needed and distract (reorient) when necessary.
• Plan distractions. Know in advance what will reduce agitation, and use this when frustration is causing stress. Make use of all senses, and change whichever is causing the stress. For example, a favorite song may divert the attention from a disturbing image; or a cherished photo may divert the attention after a disturbing sound.
Stress worsens the symptoms of most illnesses including Alzheimer’s.
• Avoid over-stimulation. Noises, frenetic activities, crowds, etc.
• Maintain the routine!
• Practice simple enjoyable exercises, especially walks if ambulatory.
• Natural foods, teas and herbs that promote relaxation.
• Avoid talking about stressful things in front of the care recipient, especially avoid discussing family dynamics and problems.
• Never assume that the care recipient is not “present” mentally. While we can’t know how much is being understood while an Alzheimer’s patient seems to be in an altered state, we can be fairly sure that the caregiver’s tone of voice and body language is being interpreted and may be causing stress.
MORE ON MUSIC
Oliver Sachs, a world-renowned psychologist, has extensively researched the relationship between music and memory using observations of Alzheimer’s patients and other memory-impaired people. In his book “Musicophelia,” he notes that music touches both memory and emotion.
Memories, he says are imbedded in the music we once sang and enjoyed. “Alzheimer’s patients, almost without exception, will respond to a familiar song, enjoy it, and regain that part of their lives and identity.” Sachs says he found that the effects of regaining ones “autobiography” through music can last for several hours, even after the music is enjoyed.
TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF FIRST!
Forman points out, "When you fly, a flight attendant always starts with a safety message that instructs you to take your oxygen mask first and then assist others. Caregivers for Alzheimer’s patients quickly learn what works for their care recipients, but then often believe they are the only person that can properly care for their loved ones. However, if you don’t allow yourself regular breaks and time away, your stress and eventual burnout will affect your relationship. Fatigue and frustration will become resentment, forever changing how you feel about each other," says Forman.
Visiting Angels provides caregivers with extensive Alzheimer’s care experience, from a few hours to 24/7 care. Just a few hours respite a week can make a huge difference in your own health, and in the way you care for your loved one.
There’s no obligation or long-term contract. Once a general background file is created, you can call anytime, 24/7 for help for any length of time.
Visiting Angels can help with personal hygiene, dressing, meal preparation, walking, transfers and exercise, errands, shopping and appointments, laundry, light housekeeping, and compassionate companionship. For more information, call 302-329-9475 or visit visitingangels.com/sussexde.