By Judith Boyko
Isolation. Frustration. Solitude. Loneliness. Depression. Sadness. Heartache. Forgetfulness. For many, these are some of the words that come to mind when they think Alzheimer’s disease.
What is it?
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s “is a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior.” Individuals suffering from this debilitating disease — the sixth leading cause of death among Americans — experience significant and notable cognitive, emotional and physical changes.
How prevalent is it?
According to the National Institutes of Health, about 5.3 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease. A study conducted by the RAND Corp. and the University of Michigan concluded that if no cure is found for Alzheimer’s disease, 140,000 people over the age of 65 in Massachusetts alone will have Alzheimer’s by the year 2025.
How do we handle it?
First: Be kind. Remember that your loved one with Alzheimer’s is still a person with emotional, physical and spiritual needs. Treat her with sensitivity and patience. A soft touch on her hand or shoulder can go a long way.
Second: Communicate. Your loved one may need extra time to process things you are saying to her, so exercise patience while communicating. Ask questions that will enable her to reminisce, but give her time to respond. It may take her a little more time than usual to formulate a response.
Third: Stay positive. By fostering positive emotions in your loved one, you will increase her comfort level and decrease levels of stress and anxiety.
The World Alzheimer Report found that 40 percent of people who have the disease indicated that they feel “excluded from everyday life.”
By involving your loved one in enjoyable activities like watching old movies, listening to music or sharing stories of her youth, you may distract her from negative feelings like anger or depression. Look through old photo albums to foster memories of her past, which will add enrichment to her days. Help her keep her dignity by eating nice meals with her or helping her to maintain good hygiene.
Although independence is imperative for people suffering from Alzheimer’s, it is also paramount to enable them to feel part of a community. Caregivers should encourage their loved one to participate in groups that offer music therapy, for example, which “can shift mood, manage stress-induced agitation, stimulate positive interactions, facilitate cognitive function and coordinate motor movements,” according to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America.
We’ve all heard the Golden Rule myriad times: treat others the way we want to be treated. It’s a good rule to keep in mind when caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s: treat her as a person; help her maintain dignity and independence; foster communication of emotions; and help her participate in activities that are enjoyable and fulfilling.
Support them, encourage them and help them make decisions on their own.
But remember: keep it simple.
Judith Boyko, MBA, MS, RN, is CEO of Century Health Systems, Natick Visiting Nurse Association and Distinguished Care Options. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For additional information, visit www.centuryhealth.org, www.natickvna.org or www.dco-ma.com. Archives of articles from previous issues can be read at www.fiftyplusadvocate.com.