Alzheimer’s is a chronic neurodegenerative disorder that gradually progresses over time. It is a type of senile dementia that interferes with the cognitive functioning of our loved ones making life miserable for them. I have cared for hundreds of Alzheimer’s patients; every case is different. The main thing to remember is to have love and patients.
Absolutes for caring for the patient
- ARGUE instead AGREE
- REASON instead DIVERT
- SHAME instead DISTRACT
- LECTURE instead REASSURE
- SAY “REMEMBER” rather REMINISCE
- RESPOND “I TOLD YOU” instead REPEAT AGAIN
- SAY “YOU CAN’T” instead, DO WHAT YOU CAN
- COMMAND/DEMAND instead ASK/MODEL
- CONDESCEND instead ENCOURAGE/PRAISE
- FORCE instead REINFORCE
Understanding the disease progression
The rate at which Alzheimer’s disease progresses varies with each senior and largely depends on the changes inside the brain. These changes begin several years before the actual condition sets in. Alzheimer’s disease affects most parts of the brain and significantly alters the thinking, memory, personality, problem-solving, language, and judgemental skills of your loved one.
The several stages of Alzheimer’s disease
The disease progresses over seven different stages, each with its distinct symptoms. These seven stages would help caregivers understand the behavioral pattern of their loved ones as the disease progresses. However, these stages and related symptoms are only a rough generalization of what one can expect during each disease step.
Stage 1: No Alzheimer’s
Sometimes we are forgetful: misplacing our car keys, forgetting an item at the grocery store, or thinking it’s Wednesday when it’s only Tuesday. Persons can be free of any cognitive and functional decline symptoms, including behavioral and mood changes, at any age. Therefore, the term normal or stage 1 refers to people who are mentally healthy at any age.
Stage 2: Preclinical Alzheimer’s disease
In this stage, there are significant changes in the brain, which occur much before any other sign or symptoms of the disease are apparent. This preclinical stage can last several years before the signs and symptoms become evident. However, with advancements in medical science, early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s has been made possible.
Stage 3: Mild cognitive impairment
In this stage, there are still no significant symptoms. There is only mild cognitive decline with altered thinking ability. However, even though no considerable signs are evident, seniors still experience difficulty remembering conversations or losing track of recent events. They may also experience trouble judging the number of steps required for carrying out a particular task.
Stage 4: Mild dementia
The third stage of Alzheimer’s disease marks the onset of mild dementia. At this stage, the condition is diagnosed, and seniors experience severe difficulty with thinking and memory. Our loved ones, at this stage, experience changes in personality, have problems with daily tasks, cannot carry out problem-solving tasks, experience memory loss, find their way back home, and often misplace their belongings.
Stage 5: Moderate dementia
At this stage, Our loved ones require more help to carry out their daily tasks and activities. As a result, our loved ones get confused more quickly and become forgetful. Memory loss at this stage becomes graver, making matters all the more difficult for our loved ones.
Stage 6: Moderately Severe Dementia
A person’s ability to carry out essential daily activities becomes compromised at this stage. Additionally, they begin to require assistance putting on their clothing correctly after losing the ability to choose a dress without help. Without supervision, someone with Alzheimer’s disease may put their clothing on backward. They may also have difficulty fitting their arm into the right sleeve or dress in the wrong order.
Stage 7: Severe dementia
This is the most severe stage of Alzheimer’s, wherein our loved ones experience extreme communication difficulties and increasingly depend on their caregivers for their activities. In addition, one of the most significant markers of severe dementia is that our loved ones gradually experience a physical decline characterized by the inability to walk, difficulty swallowing, and loss of control over bladder movements. Symptoms such as these occur when muscles become stiff, and reflexes are abnormal.
Alzheimer’s is a challenging disease that limits the daily activities of our loved ones. However, understanding the various stages of the disease will enable caregivers to help their loved ones lead joyful and fulfilling lives.
The Challenges And Rewards Of Alzheimer’s Care
Watching your loved one’s memories disappear and their skills decay can be frustrating. While caring for our loved one with Alzheimer’s can also be overwhelming. Our loved ones with Alzheimer’s will change and behave in different, sometimes disturbing or upsetting ways. For both caregiver and their loved ones. These changes can produce an emotional wave of hostility, confusion, and sadness.
As the disease advances, your loved one’s needs will increase, and your caregiving responsibilities will become more challenging. But, at the same time, the ability of your loved one to show appreciation for all your hard work will disappear. Caregiving can seem like an appreciative position. But, for many, including myself, a caregiver’s long part includes challenges and many rich, life-changing rewards.
Become Informed is the Key
It is essential to become well-informed about Alzheimer’s disease. Many programs teach families about the various stages of Alzheimer’s, how to deal with problematic behaviors, and other caregiving challenges can help.
Good coping skills, a strong support network, and respite care are other ways to help caregivers handle the stress of caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease. For example, staying physically active provides physical and emotional benefits.
How to handle different behaviors in Alzheimer’s patients
The first thing to remember, Alzheimer’s disease can become a severe problem for caregivers, especially when it comes to complex and unpredictable behavior. Also, a condition of this kind causes a progressive cognitive decline. As a result, this decline can cause sudden behavioral changes in patients with the disease. Furthermore, severe and unpredictable behaviors can force caregivers to get outside help from home health agencies. Therefore, preparing and understanding such behavioral changes can help caregivers care for the elderly much better.
Common behavior patterns of Alzheimer’s patients:
People living with Alzheimer’s may suddenly exhibit anger and physical aggression. Unfortunately, this is one of the most common behaviors of such patients. However, caregivers must understand that the behavior is not intentional and only happens because of the disease.
Depression and apathy
Many times, Alzheimer’s patients often lose interest in life and begin feeling listless. In addition, they seem to stay depressed more often and exhibit their loss of interest through crying or staying quiet.
Insults and complaints
This is one of the most hurtful behaviors exhibited by patients with Alzheimer’s. Patients are often locked up in rooms, which is done for their safety, but they don’t realize why this is being done and therefore react in a very insulting manner. They may also accuse their caretakers and family members of not taking proper care of them.
This is yet another severe symptom of Alzheimer’s patients, due to which leaving them alone at home can be frightening. The patients often wander in search of someone or a thing they have just imagined. It may also happen that they need to use the toilet and have forgotten the path to it. Such factors often compel patients to wander.
Alzheimer’s disease robs one of the brain cells once responsible for memory and thinking. Over some time, damaged brain cells cause the patients to keep repeating things repeatedly; it can be repetitive actions, word repetition, or even repetition of one particular activity.
How to handle aggressive behavior in Alzheimer’s patients:
Caring for Alzheimer’s patients during such aggressive behavior becomes a challenge for caregivers. These situations must be handled delicately with the utmost care and patience. Caregivers need to understand that the reason behind the aggressive nature is the disease itself. Therefore, there are two major things they need to focus on: 1) the actual cause that triggered a particular behavior and 2) the kind of emotions the patients are undergoing during the sudden aggressive behavior episode. If the caregivers can properly comprehend these two factors, handling the situation becomes more accessible.
Practical tips to help caregivers handle challenging behavior:
Create a calm and soothing environment for the patients
This is because potential stressors such as loud colors, unidentifiable noises, shadow lighting, reflecting surfaces, and mirrors can trigger aggressive behavior in Alzheimer’s patients.
Handle all kinds of situations with love and patience
If the caregivers are not at peace within themselves, there are chances that they will respond in a harsh way to the behavior of the patients. This would further aggravate the problem and make matters worse.
Stress is sometimes the primary reason behind aggressive behavior
Therefore, taking the necessary steps to curb stress becomes an essential intervention. For example, a patient fond of soft music or reading before their diagnosis with Alzheimer’s benefits from the reconnection to their old habits.
Regular exercise is another way to reduce stress levels and manage aggressive behavior.
Caregivers should ensure that their patients get at least 15 – 20 minutes of daily exercise.
During situations when the patient is aggressive, it is best not to confront them.
Allow the patient to express their anger and distress alone without any interference. However, ensure that both the patient and the caregiver are safe.
Engaging the patients in meaningful activities
Encouraging them to maintain social relationships can also help manage their behavior changes.
The above information will help you with the challenges of Alzheimer’s. Like many senior caregivers, you didn’t plan to be taking care of your loved one right now. Unfortunately, this leaves you unprepared to manage your stress and emotions while juggling doctor visits, medication changes, and day-to-day life. Lastly, if the caregiver is worried about the sudden change in behavior and the aggressive nature of their patient, then it is best to consult a doctor. Medications are there with which the patient would gradually begin to feel better. However, along with drugs, caregivers’ love, care, and magical touch would also be necessary to help patients cope with the disease.
Caregiving can be challenging, frustrating, and highly stressful! But it doesn’t have to be that way.
- Giving care with expertise and confidence.
- Managing your loved one’s daily activities in an organized and structured way.
- Following a proven caregiving system that provides for your loved one’s needs while also giving you peace of mind.