How to Support Family Living with Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s Disease is a type of dementia that occurs after a long period of progressive degeneration of parts of the brain involved in intellect, language, emotions, and movement. Usually, these parts of the brain go through a series of changes over time, and the colossal effect only begins to show up in symptoms like memory loss, lack of orientation to place or not knowing the date and time, forgetting cogent events, tripping or stumbling over things, not managing money well, lacking words to communicate, poor hygiene, changes in mood and personality, etc.

Image from News Medical.

Alzheimer’s is a very common elderly disease in the US, as it is among the top 3 killers of the elderly. It is thus, very important to know how to care for family members living with Alzheimer’s. Although people don’t often talk about it, it’s quite prevalent in Nigeria.

It goes without saying that once these symptoms begin to occur, families are in the best position to quickly notice them and help the victim access healthcare. As the second party, you will be in an objective position to make that first call after weeks of observation. You are in a good place to be there as a secondary source of information for the health care worker.

Early Diagnosis

Early diagnosis mustn’t be underestimated as a crucial factor for improving long-term prognosis and condition management. A study conducted by Olawande et al. highlighted that even though Africans had a lower likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s Disease, ranging from 1.6% to 6.4% compared to more developed European settings, they were still prone to faster degeneration due to various factors such as limited access to specialist healthcare and support services.

Lack of access to healthcare services is one thing, what about support? How can we ensure that our loved ones grow old in a protective environment that will make sure they have all they need to lead relatively independent, wholesome, lives, irrespective of whether they end up having the disease or not? What strategies are in place for them? Or do we just leave them at home under the care of a nurse? Or send them to old people’s homes and institutionalize them? In any case, here are a few ways we can be more hands-on in our approach to caring for and supporting our loved ones living with the disease.

Sense of Purpose

Aging has a funny way of evoking nostalgia and feelings of loneliness among the elderly. While having your grandkids around every now and then is definitely something to look forward to-a ray of sunshine on most days, having something to look forward to, to work towards, and to find meaning in everyday just makes living more worth it.

They take ownership of their lives and would be more likely to put in efforts to ensure they have their medications when they ought to have them. It’s not easy being on maintenance medication for the rest of one’s life, and some of these drugs can have nasty side effects. Neither is showing up for therapy and engaging in exercises, only to be faced with growing disability. However, purpose incentivizes the entire process. They will feel needed. But it doesn’t stop there. Getting involved in things that matter to them will have them engage their mental faculties, remember past similar experiences, and help with their emotions and moods. An NGO, Hands4Life saw this need and found a way to bridge the gap by matching orphan children with the orphan aged.

Seeking Companionship and Compatible Friendships

If anything, the elderly thrive on quality relationships. Not one that is aseptic and therapeutic like that which you might find between the nurse and patients, but something much more personable or even beyond clinical care- something not really ‘professional’. The deep connection that ticks off the love and belonging need of every human being, as Abraham Maslow explains.

It doesn’t have to be romantic, although research has it that old people with the disease that have beautiful relationships with their spouses tend to thrive better and last longer. Friendships, stimulating conversations, events, and other fun social gatherings have also been observed to help with coping. So what are you waiting for? Enroll them for that class. Sign them up for that club. Get them to go on that date. Spend time with them. You want them to be as reasonably active as much as possible. Humans are social and we’re built for interaction.

Co-operative Environment

Family Living with Alzheimer’s Disease usually have mobility issues. Ensure that their immediate surroundings make life easy for them to move around, use the kitchen, visit the bathroom, climb up the stairs (if need be), open the doors, etc. Ensuring they can be independent and safe is very important. Also having someone come in from time to time to watch how well they are adapting to the environment helps to put things in order and avoid any mishaps. Depending on the level of disability and how advanced the disease is, you always want to have quality support available that can encourage them to perform what they can and assist when and where necessary.

When choosing a or several caregiver(s), you want to pay attention to the details like how they speak and interact with them, especially because of hearing difficulties that people with Alzheimer’s tend to face.

The goal is to ensure that elements in their environment make doing simple things like going to the bathroom, a seamless process. This will require more planning and a bit of attention to detail. Can be a bother but the rewards are well worth it. Independence and self-autonomy is a basic human need.

Living with Alzheimer’s disease can debilitate and limit the complete expression of this need. However, you should attentively attend to it. Formulate a well-thought-out strategy and prioritize their desires.

Simple questions like, ‘Would you like to have a door here or there?’, or even taking the time to listen to suggestions by the caregiver and working round to adopting methods that will work for them. It’s not a walk in the park, but it is worth it.

Establishing Routines for family living with Alzheimer

This cannot be stressed enough. Routines not only strengthen their sense of control, but they also train and condition the brain for specific activities. It will help them better coordinate themselves, be oriented, and have a good sense of time. Running their routines back and forth with them ensures they have something they look forward to. Haphazardly doing things does not help and can actually cause them to degenerate faster. The brain thrives on routine. If they do it enough, they will face fewer issues when trying to complete tasks on time. It promotes that sense of control and brings much-needed stability.

In conclusion, Alzheimer’s Disease can be life-changing. Not just for its victim, but also for everyone who has members of the family living with Alzheimer’s. Creating a nurturing environment for their journey is challenging and demanding. However, having a plan that doesn’t heavily rely on one nurse or caregiver, to care for them is a great step towards owning the situation, taking responsibility, and being more proactive with their care. After all, our old ones are gems of people that deserve all the honor we can give them.

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