Caring For Loved Ones With Alzheimer's

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(Image courtesy of Bedel Financial Consulting Inc.) (Image courtesy of Bedel Financial Consulting Inc.)

Does someone close to you have Alzheimer's? If so, you'll likely want your loved one to retain his or her lifestyle and independence as long as possible. My dad cared for my mom at home. Here's what our family learned from our experience.

Know What You're Dealing With

Alzheimer's is the sixth cause of death in the U.S., and it has no cure. According to the National Institute on Aging, new estimates indicate it may be the third leading cause of death in older adults. One in 9 Americans age 65 and older has Alzheimer’s disease, and every 66 seconds someone in the U.S. develops the disease (Alzheimer’s Association).

It's important to understand the economic and emotional impact of the disease. Families who provide care for a loved one with Alzheimer's spend, on average, an additional $5,000 annually. In 2015, 15.9 million individuals provided 18.1 billion hours of unpaid care to loved ones with Alzheimer's and other dementia - an estimated economic value of $221.3 billion (Alzheimer's Association). Family members who personally provide care may experience depression, exhaustion and illness. It's important for caregivers to nurture themselves. Many organizations offer Alzheimer's caregiving counseling and education. Joining a local support group could also be beneficial.

If you are currently a caregiver or anticipate you might be in the future, here are some tips to get you started.

Keep the Environment Safe

The judgment of people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia can be compromised, even in the early stages. Because they will likely lose their ability to recognize danger, your first priority should be to keep your loved one safe.

  • Store sharp objects (knives, scissors, etc.) and hazardous cleaning products in locked cabinets or areas that are not easily accessible.
  • Add safety knobs on the oven and stove, and keep matches out of reach.
  • Install ramps and make sure hallways and doorways are well lit.
  • Mount grab bars in the bathroom to help him or her maintain balance and provide assistance while showering and using the toilet. A walk-in shower with no-skid strips is ideal.
  • Avoid clutter.
  • Eliminate items such as throw rugs that could contribute to tripping or falls.
  • Keep medications out of reach.
  • Put all valuables in a safe place.

Provide Comfortable Surroundings

  • People with Alzheimer's are most comfortable in familiar and calm environments and with people they know.
  • Keep home décor and furniture arrangements consistent to allow your loved one to move around more easily and confidently.
  • Keep distractions and noises to a minimum to help your loved one feel safe.
  • Remain calm and friendly and maintain a pleasant disposition, no matter how you feel inside. Those with Alzheimer’s disease often feel threatened and can startle easily.
  • To uplift spirits, encourage visits from those who have been a special part of your loved one’s life.
  • Keep people with Alzheimer’s disease stimulated and involved in activities that make them feel useful.

Communicate Effectively

When you approach your loved one, address him or her by name. Also identify yourself and your relationship to him or her. Try to maintain eye contact and give him or her your full attention. If you ask questions, keep them simple and use proper names instead of pronouns when talking about others.

Be patient and do what it takes to minimize your loved one’s distress. If he or she thinks Eisenhower is still president, go along with it. Trying to correct him or her will only cause confusion.

Sometimes you have to be dishonest with your loved one. For example, he or she may want to leave the restaurant before the food arrives. It’s okay to make up a reason why you can’t go home at that time. You might also try to change the subject, redirecting his or her attention.

If you become impatient or upset with your loved one, take time to step away from the situation for a few minutes to collect your emotions.

Summary

Keeping your loved one with Alzheimer's disease at home does help prolong his or her independence and functionality. It certainly did for my mom. If you're in this situation, make sure your home is a safe and familiar place and be patient when communicating with your loved one. As the primary caregiver, take time for yourself. You can't provide optimal care for your loved one if you're exhausted or sick. And, always keep the Alzheimer's Association's helpline number handy: 1-800-272-3900.

Kathy Hower, CFP, is a Senior Wealth Advisor at Bedel Financial Consulting Inc., a wealth management firm located in Indianapolis. For more information, visit their website at BedelFinancial.com or email Kathy.

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