Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's

I remember when my mom brought my grandma from Indiana to Florida to live with us. Just before, Grandma almost transferred all of her money into a scam artists account. This was a big sign that her memory was deteriorating. My mom cared for Grandma at home as long as she could. Eventually the decision to put her in a nursing home had to be made. It was a very touch decision. Most people don't want to put the care of their loved ones into the hands of others but sometimes there just isn't any other choice.

There is a lot of support for the caregivers of Alzheimer's patients. With the help of the internet the options are almost endless.

Alzheimer's affects the brain in a way that the person loses their ability to remember things (both short term and long term), to think, communicate, and eventually simple functions like using the bathroom, walking, and talking. Grandma had to do physical therapy to help her remember how to swallow. Understanding the phases of Alzheimer's is important for loved ones taking care of and those visiting the person affected with the disease. Here are the three visible phases (the earliest usually isn't detected until 10-20 years after the onset):

Mild AD

As AD progresses, memory loss continues and changes in other cognitive abilities appear. Problems can include getting lost, trouble handling money and paying bills, repeating questions, taking longer to complete normal daily tasks, poor judgment, and mood and personality changes. People often are first diagnosed in this stage.

Moderate AD

In this stage, damage occurs in areas of the brain that control language, reasoning, sensory processing, and conscious thought. Memory loss and confusion increase, and people begin to have problems recognizing family and friends. They may be unable to learn new things, carry out tasks that involve multiple steps (such as getting dressed), or cope with new situations. They may have hallucinations, delusions, and paranoia, and may behave impulsively.

Severe AD

By the final stage, plaques and tangles have spread throughout the brain and brain tissue has shrunk significantly. People with severe AD cannot communicate and are completely dependent on others for their care. Near the end, the person may be in bed most or all of the time as the body shuts down.

It's important to talk to your loved one about their long term care before the disease progresses too deep into the mild stage. It will be very frustrating for them to learn that eventually they will have no control over their lives and decisions that they used to make for themselves. Make sure you do your research for the many questions you will have. Find a local support group for yourself and those close to your loved one. Having a place to vent with people who are going through the same things you're going through is important in taking care of your own needs. Find other family members who will be willing to help in the care. You can't do it by yourself. You will should to look into having home care if you plan on avoiding placing your loved one in a home so you can take time for yourself.

Eventually, however, most Alzheimer's patients need to be placed in a home. Before the Alzheimer's gets bad, you may want to look at different nursing homes and let your loved one be involved in the decision making. Do your research. Not all homes are what they seem. There are now lawyers that specialize in cases against nursing homes that don't take care of their patients. There are many more homes that provide excellent care, though. Take your time choosing the right one.

Learning someone you care about has Alzheimer's will bring about a whole slew of questions and emotions. Caregivers need to remember to not only do what they can to help their loved one but must also remember to take care of themselves.

Excellent resources:

Caregiving: Getting help from other caregivers

Understanding How AD Changes People—Challenges and Coping Strategies

Caregiving: Getting Started

Caregiver: Stressed Out? Advice to help you out

Caregiving: Insights for caregivers

Home and Family

Related posts by RMS Snowdrop:

Alzheimer's- a deeper look

What is Alzheimer's?

Alzheimer's stole my grandma

Alzheimer's stole my Nanny

If I develop Alzheimer's- A letter to my family

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