Caring for an ageing relative is never easy, but when Alzheimer’s care is needed, things can become much more complex. For example, cognitive and behavioural changes can be very erratic and many sufferers may even refuse care.
If you are a caregiver for someone suffering from this disease it’s vital that you take the time to comprehend what this disease is and how it can influence those suffering with it. Alzheimer’s is a progressive illness, meaning that symptoms will get worse over time. Once diagnosed, life expectancy is typically between just four to eight years. However, someone can live with Alzheimer’s for up to twenty years.
It’s also important to remember that life has been anything but normal this year, so it’s essential that you factor care around government advice on handling the coronavirus pandemic.
As the disease progresses, the demands of your loved one will change. You can take care of their requirements by closely coordinating with their doctor and carers, this not only maintains the quality of life for your relative but it also helps make the process a little easier for yourself as the primary caregiver.
It’s important to remember that while Alzheimer’s itself doesn’t increase the risk of catching COVID-19. Some associated behaviours, advanced age and common health conditions may increase the risk of transmission.
For example, patients may forget to wash their hands or may not understand the recommended precautions to decrease the risk. Therefore, it’s important as your relative’s primary carer to consider increased precautions such as:
• Placing signs in the bathroom to remind them to wash their hands thoroughly with soap and warm water for twenty seconds.
• Demonstrating how to wash hands thoroughly.
• Carry at least 60% alcohol hand sanitiser when you’re out and about.
• Talk to a pharmacist or doctor about increasing any medication prescriptions to avoid unnecessary trips.
• Ensure that anyone entering your home to provide supplementary care is given a temperature check and is wearing appropriate PPE.
When someone transitions from the early stages of Alzheimer’s to the moderate stage, you may want to think about making changes to the home to reduce the risk of accidents and injury. By taking these steps, you retain home comforts while adding an extra layer of safety.
You may wish to consider:
• Assessing the situation – Before making any changes, it’s a good idea to take a step back and evaluate what could become dangerous. Garages, sheds, and gardens are all areas that may require intervention, which means that tools, cleaning supplies and chemicals must all be moved.
• Dangers in the kitchen – It’s important to make sure that your relative can’t turn on the hob or the oven. You could unplug everything after each use or simply take the knobs off.
• Dangers in the bathroom – Walk-in bathtubs or showers will ensure easy access. Grab bars should also be installed in the shower, bath, near the toilet or anywhere else where a fall is likely.
• Lighting– Make sure that hallways to and from the bathroom are well lit, to ensure your relative can make it to the toilet during the night. Night lights and automatic lighting can potentially prevent an accident before it occurs.
• Regular cleaning – The coronavirus bacteria can live on surfaces for a few hours, so it’s a good idea to wipe down surfaces with antibacterial sprays and wipes several times a day.
Caring for an Alzheimer’s patient is not an instinctive process. In fact, in some situations, what seems like the most logical solution is often the wrong one.
You may want to think about:
• Making mistakes – When you’re under such strain, you won’t always make the right decisions. The best thing you can do is to be compassionate and empathetic for both yourself and your relative.
• No two days are the same – Alzheimer’s is a very volatile disease, so accepting that there will be peaks and troughs from the outset will undoubtedly make things easier in the long run.
• The range of symptoms – When many thinks of Alzheimer’s, the first thing that often comes to mind is the loss of memory. However, you must also understand that personality, temperament, and behaviour will eventually make your loved one a completely different person.
This may seem counter-intuitive, but if you aren’t able to take care of yourself, you can’t realistically expect to do the same for others. As the disorder progresses into the moderate and severe stages, it’s completely normal to feel anxiety and tension.
Grief may also play a part as you begin to recognise that your loved one that you once knew is slipping away.
You may wish to consider:
• Arranging some time for you – The more challenging the situation becomes, the more important it is to look after your physical and mental needs.
• Taking breaks – If you reach the stage of caregiver burnout, everything will become far more overwhelming and even the simplest of tasks will become difficult.
• Seek support – If you try to do everything by yourself, sooner or later, something important will be missed. Seek help from family, friends and external resources where you can. This will become very important if you come down with the symptoms of coronavirus and need to take the time to manage your own recovery or self-isolate.
When caring for somebody with Alzheimer’s, their fluctuating mental state is often the first thing that you’ll see, particularly their ability to remember things. But, the physical symptoms can often be missed or mistaken for behavioural issues stemming from the disease.
Be mindful of:
• Dressing themselves – Purchase clothing that is comfortable, easy to wear, and that won’t irritate the skin.
• Communicating – Be adaptable when seeking ways to help communicate with your loved one. This is especially important if their speech is beginning to decline.
• Eating – Eating and swallowing can become difficult; your choice of foods should consider this.
• Hygiene – As the illness develops, individuals may forget simple hygiene measures such as bathing, cleaning their teeth, shaving or even using the toilet. It’s important to remind them why these things are important and offer physical support where necessary. Regular handwashing, avoiding face touching and limiting visits from other households should also be explained to them clearly and as often as necessary.
Although you may think you should be able to handle it all by yourself, the time may come when you need to look for some outside assistance. When this time comes, care at home can be a real blessing for caregivers.
Care at home offers help with many of the day-to-day activities that your relative needs at home such as:
• Making meals
• Medical support
• Physical support
Respite care is also another good option as it just gives you some time and space to decompress and take care of your own wellbeing. If, for any reason, you’re not able to continue caring for your loved one during the pandemic, do everything you can to decrease their feelings of isolation.
Where possible, writing regular letters and encouraging regular activity and hobbies will help to keep them feeling connected and engaged.
Caring for a senior member of your family at home is an immense amount of work, particularly in light of the pandemic, but it can be beneficial for yourself and your loved one.
Staying at home means that your loved one can be cared for by yourself, your family and carers like Hales Care, in the familiarity of their own home, providing a sense of constancy and reassurance are both vital when battling a disease like Alzheimer’s.
If you have any questions about our approach to home care, or you’re interested in any of the services we can provide, do not hesitate to contact us today.