Jul 22, 2012

Let Your Wife Do Things on Her Own

You can start by empowering her and believing in her.

By Carole Larkin
Alzheimer's Reading Room

In comments to the article on “Maintaining Alzheimer’s Patients Independence” Gordon wrote:
"In theory this is the way to go, but it would be helpful to get a comprehensive list of tasks that are possible though maybe overlooked. The article is too general to actually help.

For instance, I would like my wife to be able to dress herself with only some help. I might hand her socks and have her put them on. Then I had to guide her hands while she was trying to get them on.

Finally, when she could no longer do the task, if she needed socks on I had to do it.

I could name many such tasks that have accordingly deteriorated. So while I tried to stay in the background, from dressing, to eating, to exercising, gradually my presence became imperative.

Dependency is not a good thing, so I would like to hear more than generalizations about caregivers backing off to let the Alzheimer's person take more agency".

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Alzheimers Do Things on Your Own
My answer to Gordon.

How's this?

 Before you attempt to let your wife "do things on her own" (which includes guiding her both verbally and physically), allow a certain amount of time to let her try with your supervision and maybe even physical guidance of her hands, to accomplish a single task.

Since you talked about putting socks on, let's use that for example. Say before that task was to be completed, you set a time limit of 5 minutes a sock, and then if it wasn't done in those five minutes, you'd finish it for her. If she was pretty close at the 5 minute mark, you may bend another minute or two to see if she can finish it.

Also, remember, if she gets something done that isn't acceptable to your taste and standards that still means she has gotten it done. Give her praise immediately after she has done it. If she's not going out of the house that day, and the socks aren't positioned exactly the "right" way, and they don't cause her any pain or hardship walking, then relax and let it go.

In sum, letting her do something herself is not a black or white dichotomy. It isn’t to do it for her or abandon her to tackle it alone. It is really various interventions to "help" as minimally as possible but still get it done. It's hard because it's a moving target from day to day and from task to task, something we all know here.

You can make a start on the mindset to enable her to do whatever is up to her capacity by first giving her more time to do it, maybe twice as much as you'd normally prefer, and building that time into the daily schedule. As long as you take precautions for her to be as safe as possible, you WILL be empowering her.

You can try the set time with everything, from bathing to dressing, to eating, to any sort of activity she carries out around the home like folding towels, setting the table, dusting, tearing up lettuce for salad, in short anything.

See if your time setting strategy will give you the information you need to determine what the list of things she can do by herself ( with a little "Help") and the things she absolutely cannot do. Let us know what you discover!

Carole Larkin MA, CMC, CAEd., QDCS, EICS is a geriatric care manager who specializes in helping families with Alzheimer’s and dementia related issues. Carole works in Dallas, TX, and is also available for consultation by phone or email in the USA and in English speaking nations. You can learn more about her services at ThirdAge Services.

Original content the Alzheimer's Reading Room