Once a loved one has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, the family member realizes that providing care will now be a permanent task. This is a crucial moment for both the loved one and the family.
It is the time for the caregiver to learn everything possible about the changes that will affect the loved one’s skills and capacities.
"One must not forget that people with Alzheimer’s disease do not immediately lose the capacity for self-reflection and the desire to be an active member of society. This is essential for the caregiver to realize, to minimize the chances of acting inappropriately toward the loved one."
It is also time to create a new mindset about the disease. There will naturally be losses to be experienced in the loved one, but if the family member chooses to focus on these losses, he or she runs the risk of becoming overwhelmed. Alternatively, family members can resolve to strive to maintain dignity and nurture the signs of life that may remain.
Families must not forget that people with Alzheimer’s disease do not immediately lose the capacity for self-reflection and the desire to be an active member of society. It is important that the caregiver to be mindful of not acting inappropriately toward the loved one. When focusing on maintaining the Alzheimer’s patient's dignity, the family caregiver should actively looks for ways that help the person cope with and adjust to his or her ever-changing circumstances. Finding ways to optimize the quality of life for the person with Alzheimer’s disease should be part of this mindset.
Some of the things one can do to optimize quality of life during the different stages of Alzheimer’s disease are listed below.
Early to mild stage
- Play games that stimulate language abilities as long as possible, such as naming different objects and talking with them in their native language.
- Do activities learned when the brain was still healthy such as gardening and painting. Complex tasks that were learned in youth often remain much longer.
- Allow the person to help you. This makes the person feel useful.
- Avoid assuming the person cannot do some tasks; instead let the person do tasks he/she can perform.
- Accept that reasoning and judgment will suffer inconsistencies and one will have to make decisions to ensure their safety and well-being.
Moderate to moderately severe stage
Although some skills are lost, such as mathmatical skills and complex planning skills are dimished, other skills remian, especially judgment and social skills. Caregivers should try to maintain these skills and functions.
- A caregiver, particularly a spouse, can become cranky and begrudging in giving help, or even unwittingly say unkind things. The caregiver must realize the importance of explaining to the patient the reason he or she is upset. In the moderate stage, the caregiver may be torn between balancing his or her own needs with the patient's needs.
- The patient will require increased supervision at this stage. The caregiver will need to figure out the meaning of any inappropriate behavior.
- The caregiver must learn how to handle his or her anger, hurt, and other emotional reactions. When objectivity about a situation is not possible, it is best to enlist the help of others.
Severe to very severe stage
- The brain is severely impaired at this stage. It is best for caregivers to focus on the functions that remain.
- The caregiver will need to make most of decisions involving the welfare of the patient. The caregiver should endeavor to maintain high levels of health and energy, to respond quickly to rapid changes in the patient’s needs.
- Communication becomes extremely difficult, and frustration levels for both patient and caregiver will be high. The caregiver will have to find ways of talking with the loved one on subjects of interest. The idea is to keep trying to communicate..
- At this point, issues of finances, health insurance, and alternative housing will have to be resolved. The patient may no longer recognize the caregiver; this may be difficult to accept.