Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia can transform our loved ones before our eyes. As a loved one caring for someone with this condition, it can be both challenging and frustrating. And you are not alone. In fact, the Alzheimer’s Association estimates that as many as 6.5 million Americans age 65 or older are living with some form of dementia. This condition can be emotionally, physically and financially draining, not only for the person diagnosed but for their caregivers and loved ones, too.
Memory Loss and Confusion
The first symptom of Alzheimer’s that many notice is memory loss. In later stages, this memory loss can lead to confusion, which in turn causes frustration. Memory loss may start out relatively mild, but progress over time until your loved one is unable to remember familiar people and places. They may also struggle to remember more critical things like how to dress and feed themselves.
How to Manage Memory Loss and Confusion
Physical therapy and activity has been shown to slow memory loss and even improve recall. In fact, a lack of physical activity has been found to be among the most common preventable risk factors for developing Alzheimer’s. Exercise has been shown to improve cognitive function, and has fewer side effects than medication.
Anger and Aggression
The confusion and frustration that result from memory loss can begin to manifest as anger and aggression as your loved one’s condition progresses. Acting out angrily or aggressively is often a sign that your loved one is experiencing physical discomfort, or has been triggered by an environmental factor, such as loud noises. They may also be picking up on stress or anxiety in the household or that manifested by a difficult situation.
How to Manage Anger and Aggression
To manage anger and aggression, try to identify what triggered the behavior. What happened immediately before they acted in this way? Ensure that your loved one isn’t in any pain. They may be sitting or lying in an uncomfortable position or experiencing a physical issue such as an upset stomach, urinary infection or other malady that they are unable to articulate. As you evaluate the cause of the behavior, be sure to stay positive. Be reassuring and speak softly and calmly to avoid agitating your loved one further.
Sleeping disturbances are also extremely common among those with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. This is often rooted in exhaustion paired with unfamiliar or confusing environments or routines. Changes to the brain caused by Alzheimer’s can also upset the body’s natural internal clock, causing your loved one to become confused about whether it’s day or night. Reduced light and increased shadows can also cause increased confusion and disorientation, as can the inability to separate dreams from reality.
How to Manage Sleeping Disturbances
The best way to manage sleeping disturbances is to establish a regular routine with your loved one. Sleeping and waking times should be the same each day, as should meals. Make an effort to get your loved one outside to enjoy a walk in the sun. Ensure that you schedule these activities in the early morning or afternoon, when light is best. Also try to reduce stimulating activities or disturbances in the evening, such as loud music. Instead, find evening activities that your loved one finds calming, such as watching a favorite film or putting together a puzzle.
Among the most concerning behaviors that those with Alzheimer’s and dementia commonly exhibit is wandering. This can be an especially dangerous behavior as they lose the ability to make sense of familiar surroundings. It becomes easier for them to get lost or even injure themselves or others, especially if they are able to access a vehicle.
How to Manage Wandering
To reduce the risk of wandering, remove access to car keys, and avoid taking your loved one to busy or confusing places, such as big box stores, shopping malls or outdoor festivals. Never leave them alone unsupervised in a new place. If you are going to go out with your loved one, consider giving them a bracelet or lanyard with your contact information on it that explains their condition. Also consider a bracelet or belt fob that contains a GPS tracking device to make them easier to find if they become confused or disoriented.
Hallucinations and Paranoia
Our brains are how we capture and perceive the world. When they become damaged through injury or an illness like Alzheimer’s, it can cause us to see and hear things that aren’t there. Your loved one may also begin to experience paranoia, also linked to confusion. They may accuse a caretaker of theft or improper behavior which has not occurred, which can be distressing. Hallucinations and paranoia can also be frightening, but there are ways to manage this behavior.
How to Manage Hallucinations and Paranoia
When confronted with a loved one insisting they have seen or heard something that isn’t there, do not argue with them. Instead, try and distract them by engaging them in another activity or going on a walk outside. If they are afraid, offer comfort in a calm, soothing and reassuring tone.
How to Avoid Caregiver Burnout
As your loved one’s condition progresses, it can become increasingly difficult to give them the time, attention and expert care that they need. You may also find that the physical and emotional toll on you as a caregiver is leading you down the path of ill health and even burnout. However, you do have options.
Here are some ways to cope with caregiver burnout:
- Ask for help from family, friends and neighbors who could watch over your loved one while you take an afternoon to rest and recharge
- Attend a local support group for caregivers to share your experiences, offer support and trade resources
- Consider hired support from a home health aide, even if only part-time
- Seek out residential respite care or memory care services from a community like Village on the Green
Explore Memory Care Options at Village on the Green
Village on the Green is dedicated to providing quality, compassionate care to those with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Our state-of-the-art memory care community offers specialized programming and customized individual care plans to help your loved ones find meaning and joy in each day. Our recently completed memory care expansion includes private memory care suites and elegant common spaces.
Contact us to start the conversation about your loved one’s care, and how we can help.