According to the Mayo Clinic, Alzheimer's disease is now the most common cause of dementia. In patients with Alzheimer's disease, brain cells degenerate over time, leading to a steady, progressive decline in memory and mental function. While medications and management strategies can show some improvement in symptoms, some of the biggest problems with this disease are faced by those caring for patients with Alzheimer's disease. It's important to understand some of the main caregiving challenges with Alzheimer's disease.
Communicating with the patient
Communicating with an Alzheimer's patient can be far more difficult than you might ever appreciate. The degenerative nature of the disease means that even if a caregiver is initially able to communicate quite effectively, there will be a constant challenge in maintaining effective communication. According to Harvard Medical School, caregivers must be patient and should use simple, short phrases and sentences. Caregivers should not talk to a patient as though he or she were a child and should always ensure that the patient is allowed to complete a sentence in his or her own time.
Dressing and grooming the patient
It probably isn't until somebody is unable to dress and groom that you appreciate how much time and effort this may previously have taken up. For caregivers, maintaining a full grooming regime may simply be impractical, and it is important to find the right compromise. Harvard Medical School recommends building and maintaining simple routines that continue to offer the patient some degree of independence, leaving the caregiver to focus on other tasks.
Helping the patient use the toilet
Most Alzheimer's patients sooner or later will require assistance in using the toilet. This may mean simply marking the bathroom in a bright color to help them find it more easily. Patients should also be encouraged to wear clothing that can quickly and easily be removed. Caregivers must also remember that they can no longer rely on the patient to say when he or she needs the toilet. It becomes important to look for tell-tale signs, such as agitation. There will also inevitably be accidents, and caregivers must be patient and empathetic at these times, which isn't always easy.
Coping with the emotional pressure of caregiving
Many caregivers are also loved ones, and you can never underestimate the emotional impact of looking after somebody you love who is suffering from Alzheimer's disease. While the caregiver will want to continue to offer the very best level of care, he or she may find it particularly difficult to watch somebody who was previously intelligent, independent and articulate now struggle with even the most basic tasks. Offering a strong level of emotional support can be particularly difficult for a caregiver who, in turn, is likely to need a lot of emotional assistance.
Finding additional help
All caregivers may struggle to cope from time to time, but it can also be difficult to find additional help when required. Caring for somebody with Alzheimer's is not a task that can be undertaken lightly, so friends and family may feel unable (or unwilling) to help with the care of an Alzheimer's patient. The Mayo Clinic highlights the importance of offering caregivers assistance, particularly in specific ways. This doesn't need to be supervising the patient. This could mean going to the grocery store, doing some household chores or collecting a prescription. Caregivers are often reluctant to ask for help and rely on others to offer assistance to them.