Jun 11, 2016

Tips for Families of a Loved One with Early Stage Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer's care tips for family caregivers of patients living dementia
By Elaine C Pereira MA OTR/L
Alzheimer’s Reading Room

Alzheimer’s is an insidious, challenging, ugly disease. In the early stages even confirming a diagnosis is difficult.

Someone with early stage dementia may function very well for part of a day, a few days or in specific situations; familiar people and surroundings being more comfortable than traveling to a new store or event. And, conversely, they may behave irrationally and exhibit paranoia or safety issues.

How to Get Answers To Your Questions About Alzheimer's and Dementia

More than likely your relative with dementia will deny anything is wrong.

“I’m fine.” How many times have you heard that?

Family dynamics vary greatly with respect to accepting the decline of a loved one with Alzheimer’s and how best to handle the barrage of decisions. Below are some general and specific strategies to consider if you and your siblings/cousins are juggling issues for a loved one in need of eldercare.

Most parents, uncles and aunts too, resist intervention from the adult “children.” I had to tread carefully to balance the respect my mother deserved with the supervision she needed even while she was often erratic.

What worked best for me was to identify her specific needs and “offer” to help. It’s a strategy not a guarantee of success.
From I Will Never Forget
I noticed Mom’s sweater was uncharacteristically dirty. As I scratched my finger over the discolored streak, I realized something brownish was sloughing off in my hand—chocolate. 
“Mom,” I said gently, “this is a little dirty. Maybe I can wash it for you?”
“Sure. You can do my laundry anytime,” she answered. Steadily I took over her car keys, finances and more.
Mom had to be moved into an assisted living facility! The only technique that worked during those tumultuous months was continuing to remind her that I loved her and that I was doing “what was best for her.”

A Daughter's Story of Her Mother's Arduous and Humorous Journey through Dementia

Helping Your Parent or Relative

The unique challenges of early stage Alzheimer’s are the fluctuations people exhibit in their lucidity and chaos. And being a family caregiver is made even more challenging because of it.

If you’re the adult child or niece/nephew etc. trying to keep your elderly relative safe without stepping all over their autonomy, consider these suggestions:

  • Validate. Tell your relative that you understand and appreciate that they don't want to you to overburden you with their care. This approach may have mixed results as you try to validate someone agitated by Alzheimer’s, so a calming voice and patience are crucial.
  • Be Honest. Is your relative experiencing dementia issues that compromise their safety? Does this individual need assistance, especially increased supervision? You will have to step our of the comfort zone of denial and be honest about how they are really functioning.
  • Identify. Recognize your relatives’ needs: Laundry? Meal prep? Transportation? If the dynamics of your family can “divide and conquer” to provide the care that is necessary, that’s great. Most situations however don’t allow for seamless coverage especially in behalf of a relative with early stage dementia where the symptoms and the boundaries are unclear.
  • Delegate. If distance and/or time doesn’t logistically allow for you to help in these direct ways, then you might have to hire professional caregivers to assist them with daily activities. It is also conceivable that a placement in a facility is the only solution to insure their safety.
Health issues and family dynamics are too complex and varied for one-size fits all solutions.

The point is to be honest, genuine and to discuss the options. And accept that at some point, as your loved one’s Alzheimer’s progresses past early stage, 24 hour care may become mandatory or a placement into a secure facility.

Elaine C Pereira donates from every copy of I Will Never Forget to help support Alzheimer’s research. "Help Me Help Others" Buy a Book!


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