November is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. It‘s a time to show support for the 6.2 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s, raise awareness of the condition, raise money for research, and pay tribute to the caregivers who work tirelessly to improve the quality of life for those struggling with the disease.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia and is a progressive condition that gradually impairs multiple brain functions affecting a person’s memory, thought, behavior, and language.
Although there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s, there are plenty of things that families, loved ones, and caregivers can do to better understand and support those with Alzheimer’s and ensure their needs are being met and respected.
Here we share eight ways you can help your clients/patients to manage the effects of Alzheimer’s as their condition progresses, promote their well-being and independence, and make sure they continue to feel valued and included.
1. Establish a daily routine
Creating a daily structure with consistent times for everyday tasks and activities can help to alleviate the confusion or frustration your client/patient may experience due to memory loss.
This can be as simple as setting up a daily routine – and writing out a weekly schedule – with fixed times for going to bed, waking up, meals, visitors, medication, and so on. Where possible, create this routine with your Alzheimer’s client/patient. Active participation will help them feel they are in control of their daily schedule.
As the disease progresses, your client’s/patient’s preferences and abilities will likely fluctuate throughout the day, so it’s essential to be flexible and adjust the daily schedule to accommodate these changing moods and behaviors.
Occasionally, there will be unavoidable changes to the daily routine – such as introducing a new caregiver or attending a medical appointment. In these cases, it’s important to prepare your client/patient well in advance and implement any changes as gradually as possible to give them time to adjust to new people and unfamiliar places.
2. Adapt activities of daily living (ADLs)
As your Alzheimer’s client’s/patient’s functional abilities decline, personal care activities will become increasingly difficult for them. Due to caregiver scheduling constraints, it can be tempting to start performing these tasks on the client/patient to be efficient and get the job done quickly.
However, as much as possible, it’s important to find ways to preserve the client’s/patient’s independence and dignity by modifying the steps and equipment involved with ADLs – including bathing, dressing, toileting, and eating – and allocating adequate time.
Minimizing the challenges faced by making small adaptations – and tapping into their remaining strengths and abilities – can make a significant difference to your client’s/patient’s sense of control and quality of life. For example:
- Add non-slip bath mats, toilet rails, and grab bars.
- Choose adaptive clothing items with elastic waistbands and Velcro fastenings.
- Create a bathroom schedule for regular toileting breaks.
- Reduce the number of options available (e.g., for dressing and at mealtimes).
- Label objects, use color contrast, place items in the sequence of use, and remove any unnecessary clutter.
- Choose dishes, cups and cutlery that promote independence.
By encouraging and supporting Alzheimer’s patients to participate as much as possible in their self-care and taking as much time as they need to complete these tasks, caregivers can also avoid combative behaviors and resistance that can often arise from confusion or frustration.
3. Improve home safety
Many everyday situations can make an Alzheimer’s client/patient feel unsafe or put them in danger as their problem-solving skills and judgment become more impaired. Therefore, it’s imperative to take steps to help them safe-proof their home to minimize the risk of injury.
Give your client/patient the confidence and security to move independently and safely around their home by adding safety features and removing hazards. For example:
- Use brightly colored tape on the edges of stairs and steps so they are more visible.
- Install a handrail for support going up/down stairs or steps, in the bathroom, etc.
- Insert safety plugs in unused electrical wall sockets.
- Remove or pad sharp corners on furniture.
- Remove items that pose a tripping/fall risk, such as small rugs and extension cords.
- Install safety locks on the stove and cupboards containing hazardous items (e.g., cleaning products, medications, and potentially dangerous utensils).
- Label all medications and keep them stored in a locked box or cabinet.
- Lower the thermostat to prevent burns from hot water or radiators.
- Check fire safety precautions and make sure a fire extinguisher is accessible.
Again, where practical, aim to work collaboratively with your client/patient and their family to determine risk factors and solutions around the home rather than imposing your ideas on them without consultation.
4. Ensure a balanced, nutritional diet
In addition to typical age-related changes, Alzheimer’s clients/patients will have further challenges in maintaining a healthy eating plan. For example, they may forget to eat and drink, lose their appetite, be unable to recognize when they are hungry or thirsty, develop difficulties with chewing or swallowing, and find it hard to communicate what they would like to eat.
Depending on the individual client’s/patient’s issues, there are many different tactics caregivers can use to encourage better eating and drinking habits and create an appealing eating environment. Tips include:
- Involve them in grocery shopping and meal preparation as much as possible.
- Support their independence by encouraging them to select items they want to eat and drink – it is natural for preferences to change over time.
- Provide smaller portions but more frequent foods, snacks, and drinks.
- Introduce more foods that are easy to chew and swallow, for example, eggs, oatmeal, soups, yogurt, smoothies, and juices.
- Source specially designed dishes, cups and utensils that make eating and drinking easier.
- Make mealtimes as fun and sociable as possible – enjoy eating and talking together in a relaxed setting with limited distractions.
- Avoid putting pressure on the client/patient or rushing them to start or finish eating or drinking. Instead, allow plenty of time and keep things relaxed.
- Be flexible and adjust mealtimes to when the client/patient is most alert, rather than forcing meals at ‘normal’ times.
Maintaining proper nutrition and staying hydrated is essential for clients/patients with Alzheimer’s disease, not only to keep their bodies healthy and strong but also to help manage behavioral symptoms. Supplements may become necessary as the condition progresses.
Always consult a medical professional before making any significant dietary changes.
5. Modify physical exercise
Physical exercise is another vital requirement for clients/patients with Alzheimer’s to promote circulation, coordination, and muscle strength, boost health, and stimulate the production of ‘feel-good’ endorphins.
As the disease progresses, exercises will need to be modified but should still be encouraged as they create valuable opportunities for socialization and maintaining independence. In addition, exercise plays a significant role in your client’s/patient’s physical and mental well-being.
As part of their weekly physical exercise, multicomponent activities are recommended, which should cover aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities and balance training. Ideas include:
- Simple walks around the neighbourhood
- Gardening activities
- Singing and dancing
- Swimming or water aerobics
- Indoor bowling
- Tai chi/qigong/yoga
- Hand-held weights or body-weight exercises.
When choosing activities, ensure you and your client/patient select fun and sustainable things you’ll stick with over time. Your local health club or sports center may offer specific exercise classes for older groups.
Always check with the client’s/patient’s doctor before beginning any new exercise routine.
6. Enhance communication
Over time, Alzheimer’s disease will impact your client’s/patient’s ability to communicate clearly. They will find it more difficult to communicate their needs to those around them or to comprehend everything that is being communicated to them, leading to increased frustration and distress.
Finding ways to enhance communication will be essential to continue meeting your client’s/patient’s needs – helping them maintain their confidence and self-esteem, and avoiding isolation and loneliness. Simple adjustments can have a big impact, such as:
- Maintain eye contact and smile.
- Speak a little more slowly and use simpler words and shorter sentences.
- Pay special attention to what they communicate through body language and facial expressions.
- Be close enough to hear and see each other, and come down to their level – avoid standing over them or being too close, so they don’t feel intimidated.
- Ask one question at a time – giving limited response options or using simple yes/no questions.
- Reduce distractions and background noises when communicating.
- Listen and give them plenty of time to express themselves. Avoid interrupting or finishing their sentences for them.
- Speak in a soft, reassuring voice (but not baby talk, as this can be patronizing).
- Remain calm and patient, especially during an outburst of frustration or anger.
As communication becomes more of a challenge, there are still plenty of ways to create meaningful communication and build trust between you and your client/patient so you can best meet their needs.
7. Plan activities and encourage socialization
It’s important to help clients/patients with Alzheimer’s to stay engaged, active, and enjoying social interactions. Everything you can do to keep them connected with family and friends, in-person or online, will benefit their health and well-being.
Factor in time to support them in a mixture of home-based activities (e.g., cooking, listening to music, playing board games, exercising, watching a movie, hobbies, and crafts) and participation in community groups (e.g., senior centers, walking clubs, religious activities, and local library events).
It’s vital to observe your client’s/patient’s energy levels throughout the day so that you can plan outings and activities around the times they feel at their best – which will vary from person to person.
8. Be aware of caregiver burnout
Caregiving is a highly satisfying and rewarding job, but it does come with its fair share of daily stressors, especially for those caring for a client/patient with Alzheimer’s disease.
The daily demands can be exhausting and overwhelming at times and take their toll on your physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing. Left unchecked over an extended period, without adequate support, high-stress levels can eventually lead to burnout.
To meet your Alzheimer’s client/patient needs, you must also take good care of your own needs and recognize when to take a break to rest and recuperate. You can’t pour from an empty cup.
There are multiple ways to support someone in managing the effects of Alzheimer’s disease, including those listed in this article. In addition, understanding the condition can help improve the quality of life for those diagnosed and continue to meet their needs as the disease progresses.
Being aware of the signs, symptoms, and progressive stages of Alzheimer’s disease can make a real impact on your clients/patients, loved ones, and the wider community.
This November, Smartcare Software is proud to bring awareness to those that are affected by Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia. To find out more, including virtual events available throughout November, visit the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America.