Q: What is most important when it comes to helping someone with Alzheimer’s disease?
A: Open communication, listening to the person’s verbal and nonverbal cues, and reducing stress.
When it comes to decisions about finances, living arrangements, or medical information, I talk to my mother first to find out what her opinion is about the topics. I look for nonverbal cues to see if she understands what we are discussing and I also look for her comfort level. If the topic is stressful for her, I change the subject and return to it at a different time when my mom is ready to discuss it.
Even though she doesn’t remember the discussion, at least I know what she wants. To help her remember, I encourage her to write down what we talked about in her Memory Book.
Q: What is a Memory Book?
A: A person with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is prone to mood swings, which can be triggered by a variety of things. The Memory Book has been the most valuable tool for helping my mother to reduce her triggers.
The Memory Book works as a form of short-term memory. It’s not necessarily a journal, but instead details the little things that can’t be retained in the short-term memory. It may include shopping lists, appointments, conversations, pictures, drawings, and descriptions of the person’s feelings or moods.
Q: How can caregivers stay organized?
A: The Alzheimer’s Planner for Caregivers, described in Supporting Parents with Alzheimer’s, will help caregivers get organized and stay organized during the time they are looking after their loved one.
When you realize your parent has Alzheimer’s disease (AD) or some other form of dementia, things will move quickly. There will be new doctors introduced into your loved one’s life who specialize in different areas of elder care and you’ll need to keep track of the new medicines your parent will be taking, what dosage, and what time of day the pills need to be taken.
It’s extremely important to keep track of every little detail when it comes to medical, finances, and mood swings. The Alzheimer’s Planner for Caregivers is a place to record all these important details. It works especially well for co-caregivers so that they can stay apprised of all the changes in the person with Alzheimer’s life.
Q: What do you feel is the most important issue with Alzheimer’s disease?
A: When it comes to mental issues as opposed to physical ailments (e.g., broken leg), because mental issues aren’t physically visible people don’t seem to be as understanding. Spreading awareness and working with the limitations of the disease and the person who has it is very important.
My mother recently did a joint speech with me, and the first thing she said was, “Hi, I have Alzheimer’s disease.” The crowd of caregivers and people with Alzheimer’s responded well to this because she took away the embarrassment that people feel with the disease.
By admitting she has the disease, and being open about it, it makes it less stressful for her because she knows if she says something off topic or repeats herself, or does something out of the ordinary, those around her will understand.
Q: For those looking for help, what do you suggest?
A: Talk to your local Alzheimer Society (Canada) or Alzheimer’s Association (United States) for more information. Talk to doctors and others who are familiar with the disease. Find a support group for caregivers to help you work through the issues with your loved one.
You can also find more help in my book, Supporting Parents with Alzheimer’s, which is published by Self-Counsel Press.