by John McMath, Ciloa Director
Someone you love has Alzheimer's Disease (AD). It is a life staggering event when the doctor finally tells you what you have probably known for a little while. Although you hoped it would never happen, it has. You may know several other people it has happened to as well. It is not uncommon... and you are not alone!
What worked for me
The first thing I would recommend is that you do not panic and upset your loved one over this. Those with AD may never know or understand. That is to say, they will do very little suffering through it. It doesn't hurt and in many cases they are oblivious to it other than suffering through short durations of confusion and/or worry. You are the one who will know what is happening and the one who will know what to do. This is your time to be strong in the face of an unfortunate episode in the life God has granted the both of you.
Always, always remember...this is a disease, not a punishment and certainly not yours or your loved one's fault. Neither of you have done anything wrong nor could you have prevented this from happening.
Realize that the person you're caring for is not mad or angry at you. At some point he or she will get you confused with someone else or not know who you are at all. These times are tough, but they will come and go, so don't be alarmed. Often those with AD think they are young again, therefore their spouses should be young, too, and not the older person who is caring for them. So they get confused. Often they will think deceased parents are alive and will become worried about them.
Confusion is something that will become more and more a part of their life. My father had Alzheimer's and once while I was giving my mother a break, he and I were just sitting outside enjoying the day. He looked at me and asked, "You're older than me right?" I explained that no, I was his son and that would be physically impossible. He was so excited to see me, he gave me a great big hug. Then he said, "You're older than me right?" I said yes, but not by much!
Did I mention that you must keep your sense of humor and never be afraid to laugh? Your loved one will most likely laugh right along. A friend described his loved one as a person who never watches a re-run and is always meeting new and interesting people!
Go for a ride in the car. For some reason those with AD love this and it is very soothing to them, much like taking a young crying child for a ride and finding that soon they would be asleep. Your loved one will probably not go to sleep, but it is amazing how calming it can be. But don't go too far, because soon they will want to head back home for one silly reason or another.
Keep things as simple as possible. Don't ask complicated questions to see what they understand. It will most likely frustrate them. Ask leading or "yes" - "no" questions instead. Fix their plate for them when decisions become difficult instead of offering lots of choices.
Soothing music and a rocking chair can do wonders.
What did NOT work for me
Arguing. Try not to argue. You will not win and in just a short time, and I mean seconds, your loved one will forget about whatever it was you were arguing about. But...you have to stop, or they will just continue to argue. They can be very stubborn.
Also, some do not like small, enclosed areas or to wait very long. So what! Neither do I so that was not hard to avoid.
Talking about them in front of them. Unless your loved one has lost his or her hearing, you cannot always tell when he or she will understand what you are saying. Talking in this way will only make your loved one feel worse.
Things that are important to know, but were unexpected
Be mindful that those with AD will often wander, usually trying to go "home" even when that is where they are. Keep the car keys hidden. You may also want to lock the doors.
Hide your own phone number and address on them somewhere. It they habitually carry a wallet or purse, that is a good spot.
If you are staying in a hotel with your loved one, grab a card from the desk and stick it on them somewhere. That way if they wander away, locals will know where they came from.
Those with AD often seem to become stronger in their characters. Some may be more stubborn, others more restless. Still others can show mean tendencies. Remember, such feelings and attitudes are not directed toward you. But you must be careful and seek additional help if it becomes necessary.
Their short term memory is the most affected. They can remember things that happened to them as a child but not remember if they have eaten dinner.
Many hallucinate. Dad would imagine all sorts of things but when we pressed for more descriptions, they would often go away.
Don't be surprised when they misplace things or even stranger, place things in inappropriate places. You may find shoes in the refrigerator or glasses in a tree outside. Don't ever turn on the oven without checking inside first!
Always remember to take care of you if you are the caregiver. Take advantage of all help that is offered.