Carers of Alzheimer's Sufferers - Families caring for relatives affected

Coping with Alzheimer's Disease

For the carers and families of someone with Alzheimer’s, everyday life is a major challenge.

They’ll find themselves angry, sad, frustrated, hopeless, guilt ridden, exhausted - and sometimes simply overwhelmed by the enormity of it all.

In the beginning, while the person still has sufficient mental capacity, joint decisions should be made as to what their longer term care and needs will be.

Will you be able to look after them yourself in their own home? Could you cope with them in your home? What sort of help is available and should you consider a care home?

Arming yourself with as much information as possible about the disease can help you make the right decisions, both for you as the carer or family member and for the person suffering from the disease.

Caring For Alzheimer's Sufferers - Can You and Your Family Cope?

Ordinary daily things like communication – things you never even thought about before - will become a problem. Talking simply and in short sentences can help. Suggest words if the person you are caring for is having difficulty remembering. Try not to shout as this can make them agitated and upset. Alzheimer's carers have a lot to deal with...

Bath time can be very upsetting. Sufferers don’t understand why someone is touching them and basically what bathing is all about.

Getting dressed is another challenge. Encourage the person to dress themselves and develop a daily routine. Using Velcro and elasticated clothes helps as it avoids the confusion of buttons and zips.

Meal times can also be fraught with difficulty so once again it’s important to develop a routine and stay as calm as possible. Preparing lots of finger food makes life easier because it avoids having to use knives and forks. And buy cups with lids or straws to make drinking easier.

In the later stages of the disease the far greater challenges of incontinence, delusions and violent behaviour can become commonplace. In the case of incontinence, always keep a spare set of clothes handy if you are going out and try not to get upset when there’s an accident. Watch out for signs that a person might want to use the toilet (such as agitation and restlessness).

If a person is delusional or becomes violent try to distract them with another activity. Avoid arguing or hitting back.

But despite all the practical steps you can take to deal with the disease, having to watch someone you love slip away thanks to Alzheimer’s is inevitably tragic. And there is absolutely nothing you can do about it.

What to Expect as a Carer and Family Member

Guilt is usually always present in the carers and families of someone with Alzheimer’s. Guilt that they can’t do anything about it; guilt that they can’t cope as the disease moves into the later stages and probably guilt that they feel frustration and anger at the behaviour of someone who once brought them so much joy.

Support groups can be a tremendous help with the emotional trauma of being a carer. There are many others in the same situation – people who understand exactly what you are going through and who can offer invaluable advice and support. You are suddenly not alone and you realise you are not actually a bad person after all.

In the later stages of the disease it can become very difficult to care for someone with Alzheimer’s at home. They need round-the-clock care which can be very tough if the carer has other family members to look after and even tougher if the carer is elderly too.

If you do want to provide care at home, consider using day care services and night time and weekend respite care to give yourself a break. Talk to healthcare professionals to see what support is out there and never be afraid to admit you are tired, depressed or have simply had enough at any time.

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