Woman with her elderly father

Are you an Alzheimer’s caregiver for a spouse, family member, or friend? You’re not alone. More than 16 million adults in the U.S. perform this critical role for someone they know.1

What is Alzheimer’s Disease?

Alzheimer’s is a brain illness that impairs a person’s memory and thinking abilities. The disease can also affect behavior and personality. There is no known cure.

  • About 6.2 million people over age 65 in the U.S. have Alzheimer’s disease.2
  • By 2060, an estimated 13.8 million Americans could be living with Alzheimer’s disease.2

What can I expect as an Alzheimer’s caregiver?

You can expect being an Alzheimer’s caregiver to be challenging.

  • There’s the day-to-day duties of taking care of an another adult.
  • It can be hard to see the impact of age-related memory loss and dementia on someone close to you.
  • You may feel stress, worry, and sadness. Some dementia caregivers also experience physical and financial challenges, too.

Facts about caregivers

While you may spend a lot of time taking care of someone else, many other people know what it’s like to provide care for someone experiencing Alzheimer’s.

Did you know:3

  • About 1 in 3 caregivers is age 65 or older.
  • About two-thirds of caregivers are women. Often, the daughter of an aging parent.
  • About one-fourth of caregivers take care of their own family with young children, along with the person with Alzheimer’s.

5 Coping Strategies for Alzheimer’s caregivers

Being a caregiver for an Alzheimer’s patient can have a lot of ups and downs. It can be stressful. It can be lonely. It can take a lot of time and energy. And it can impact your life and your family in a variety of other ways.

Here are five tips that can help you fill this important role for your spouse, family member, or friend.

1. Be patient

When someone has Alzheimer’s disease, it can change their ability to think, remember, and make decisions.

  • Simple tasks can become a lot harder for a person with Alzheimer’s.
  • It’s easy for them to get frustrated and upset.
  • They might even be angry, moody, or depressed.

Take time to understand the effects of Alzheimer’s and how the disease progresses.

2. Don’t argue

Imagine yourself in one of these situations:

  • You ask your Alzheimer’s patient to complete a basic task of daily living or get ready to go somewhere, and it doesn’t happen.
  • You share plans for the day with your Alzheimer’s patient. They get frustrated, refuse to go along with the plans, or become angry.

Both of these scenarios are pretty common, and it could be frustrating.

Tip: don’t argue or shout. It only increases stress and tension for you and your Alzheimer’s patient. Instead, be patient and remember how the disease affects the brain.

3. Create routines

Want to help someone with Alzheimer’s feel a sense of purpose? Create routines.

Think about it this way: before your spouse, family member, or friend developed Alzheimer’s, they did other things (work, family, hobbies, etc.). It’s hard to lose that as the disease progresses.

The Alzheimer’s Association recommends creating routines. It can be a good way to help patients cope, give comfort, and create familiar experiences. As they are able, daily routines for Alzheimer’s patients can include things like:

  • Folding laundry
  • Washing dishes
  • Going for a walk

4. Communicate based on the stages of Alzheimer’s
When someone is first diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, they may still be in the early stages of the disease. But as it progresses, Alzheimer’s can make communication difficult.

At first, it’s often memory, thinking, and decision-making that gets harder. Then it can impact tasks of daily living. Later, language skills can decline. And eventually, Alzheimer’s patients can lose a sense of reality.

As an Alzheimer’s caregiver, it’s important to know how to communicate based on the stages of Alzheimer’s. Here are some things you can do to effectively communicate with an Alzheimer’s patient:

The early stages

Listen patiently. The patient’s memory, thinking, and decision-making skills may be impaired, but don’t assume it is.

  • Try not to complete sentences for them.
  • Give them time to answer questions.
  • Make eye contact while talking.
  • Include them in conversations. This includes conversations about their disease and care.

The middle stages

After diagnosis, people experiencing Alzheimer’s disease live an average of 4 to 8 years.4 Their ability to communicate can often stay in the middle stage for much of that time.

  • Use visual cues.
  • Ask simple “yes” or “no” questions.
  • Ask questions or share information by writing it down.
  • Give directions to complete a task one step at a time.
  • Limit distractions (phone, TV, computer, music), while communicating.

The late stages

In the late stages of Alzheimer’s, patients can become confused, afraid, or aggressive more often.

  • Always approach a patient from the front. Make sure they can see you. Speak calmly to identify yourself. Never approach from behind.
  • Speak clearly, slowly, and calmly. Raising your voice or talking fast may cause a negative response.
  • Keep the patient away from large crowds and overwhelming situations.
  • Adapt to their sense of reality. “Play along” with non-harmful delusions. You can’t change their mind or make them remember.
  • Make sure their physical needs are being met. Offer comfort and support.

5. Take care of yourself

When you’re caring for someone with Alzheimer’s, it’s easy to focus all of your efforts on the person who’s been diagnosed. You might be doing everything for the patient, including meals, personal care, activities, household chores, shopping, meals, bills, appointments, etc.

But if you don’t take care of yourself, you’ll have a hard time taking care of someone else. In fact, 60% of caregivers report high or very high levels of emotional stress.5

Burnout can show up in many ways, such as:

  • Feeling tired all the time
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Change in weight
  • Sadness, depression, or worry
  • Mood swings
  • Loss of interest in things you once enjoyed
  • Physical symptoms like headaches, muscle aches, and digestion problems
  • New or increased use of drugs or alcohol

Here are some things you can do to take care of yourself:

  • Make time for rest and relaxation, away from caring for someone with dementia.
  • Make exercise part of your daily routine.
  • Arrange for family members or friends to also be Alzheimer’s caregivers and help out with taking care of the patient.
  • Join an Alzheimer’s caregiver support group. This can be a good place to meet people who understand what you’re going through. You can learn coping strategies, and talk about how you’re feeling.
  • Explore options for long-term care for your spouse, family member, or friend with Alzheimer’s.

Helping someone as an Alzheimer’s caregiver

Alzheimer’s disease can have a profound impact on people. This includes the people diagnosed, their family and friends and caregivers.

If you’re an Alzheimer’s caregiver, using these strategies can make the process a little easier and less stressful for you and your patient.

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References

1. “Alzheimer’s disease and healthy aging.” CDC. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/aging/caregiving/alzheimer.htm Accessed on March 10, 2022. | 2. “2021 Alzheimer’s disease facts and figures.” National Library of Medicine. Retrieved from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33756057/ Accessed on March 10, 2022. | 3. “Alzheimer’s and dementia facts and figures.” Alzheimer’s Association. Retrieved from: https://www.alz.org/alzheimers-dementia/facts-figures Accessed on March 10, 2022. | 4. “Stages of Alzheimer’s.” Alzheimer’s Association. Retrieved from: https://www.alz.org/alzheimers-dementia/stages Accessed on March 11, 2022. | 5. “Alzheimer’s disease caregivers fact sheet.” Alzheimer’s Association. Retrieved from: https://act.alz.org/site/DocServer/caregivers_fact_sheet.pdf?docID=3022 Accessed on March 11, 2022.

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