Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a type of dementia that causes problems with memory and behavior. Symptoms include confusion, memory loss, and behavior changes. Some people with AD have trouble speaking and swallowing.
About 6.5 million people in the United States live with Alzheimer’s disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
Some of these individuals rely on caregivers, usually a relative.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that about
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive illness, and caregiver responsibilities typically increase as the disease advances.
Responsibilities can include making important health decisions for a loved one, so setting up a care plan early is important.
Here’s how to prepare for the future:
- Discuss your loved one’s wishes in the early stages of the disease. This allows them to express their end-of-life care wishes, such as the type of medical treatments they want.
- Get permission to speak with their healthcare team. Before AD progresses, complete a HIPAA authorization form. This allows you to discuss a loved one’s medical history with their doctors.
- Consider legal matters. You’ll need authorization to make medical decisions on their behalf. Contact a family lawyer for assistance with creating a medical power of attorney. Also talk with your loved one about advance care directives, which outline their wishes in the event of a medical emergency. For example, it may cover how they feel about life support.
- Consider financial matters. You can also become their financial power of attorney. This allows you to make financial decisions on their behalf. Also, read their insurance policies to understand their coverage (health, life, supplemental care, etc.). It would help to also discuss their funeral and burial wishes.
The type of care one receives depends on the severity of their symptoms. Types of care available for AD include:
- In-home care. The individual can receive care in a familiar environment. Family members or friends can provide this care or use in-home care options like companion services and home health aides.
- Adult day centers. Some caregivers work outside of the home. In these cases, adult day centers can provide a safe and active environment for their loved ones. Some centers provide structured activities, as well as transportation and meals.
- Long-term care. As the disease progresses, some individuals require long-term care. This includes care in a nursing home or an assisted living community. Both options offer 24-hour care or assistance.
- Respite care. This is short-term relief for caregivers. The length varies but can range from 1 day to several weeks.
- Hospice care. This occurs when a loved one approaches the end of their life. This care can take place in their home or at a long-term care facility. Hospice provides comfort and care in a person’s last months of life.
The cost of Alzheimer’s care varies. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, estimated costs for various services may include:
- home health aide: $28 per hour
- adult day centers: $80 per day
- long-term facility: $4,000+ per month
Health insurance (Medicare, retiree group plan, or private) can cover some costs. Talk with your loved one about any supplemental plans or long-term care insurance plans to reduce the out-of-pocket expense.
Check with your loved one’s insurance provider to understand their benefits.
Resources for financial support for Alzheimer’s care
Here are a few tips for caring for someone with AD.
1. Educate yourself
Learn about your loved one’s condition. This can improve communication with your loved one, and it can help you cope with their changing behavior. Attend medical appointments and ask questions.
2. Set a daily routine
Simple daily routines can help a loved one cope with short-term memory loss. For example, aim for them to bathe, get dressed, and eat at a set time each day.
3. Keep them physically active
Being active and exercising regularly can slow cognitive changes. Movement exercises the joints, muscles, and heart too. This can improve their mood — and yours.
4. Keep them mentally active
Mental activity also helps slow cognitive changes. Let your loved one perform some tasks themselves, if possible. This includes bathing, brushing their teeth, and doing household chores.
You can also encourage reading and other activities like puzzles.
5. Promote nutritious eating
Your loved one might lose interest in food, but it’s important to maintain balanced nutrition when possible. This slows cognitive changes as well.
When preparing meals, include foods with cognitive benefits. These include:
- green leafy vegetables
- whole grains
Try to limit:
- red meat
- fried foods
6. Promote good hygiene and grooming
Low self-esteem can affect their mood, so help maintain their hygiene and grooming habits. This includes a daily routine of:
- brushing their teeth
- combing their hair
If they feel good about their appearance, they might feel better.
7. Be patient
It might take them longer to complete certain tasks like bathing and eating. Try your best to be patient and not get frustrated.
The inability to care for themselves can be upsetting or embarrassing. You can maintain their dignity by respecting their comfort level. For example, allow them to bathe or shower alone (if it’s safe).
Tips for communicating with someone with Alzheimer’s disease
- Do keep responses and instructions simple and short.
- Do give them time to process information.
- Do be patient, and if necessary, repeat instructions.
- Do redirect conversations to avoid arguments.
- Do use humor to break tension.
- Do learn their nonverbal cues.
- Don’t argue or become overly irritated. Leave the room if necessary.
- Don’t insist they complete a certain task.
- Don’t take their actions personally. AD can affect mood and behavior.
- Don’t belittle them.
- Don’t yell.
- Don’t ask open-ended questions. Give options instead.
8. Be prepared for sundowning
Sundowning refers to restlessness, irritability, and confusion that worsens in the late afternoon and early evening hours.
Your loved one might wander around the home or pace during the night. This can be challenging for caregivers because sundowning often prevents sleep.
To manage sundowning, maintain a predictable bedtime routine. You can also increase their activity during the day and limit daytime napping and caffeine before bed.
9. Ensure the home is safe
If you’re caring for a loved one at home, take steps to prevent falls and other accidents. For example:
- Place carpet or grip strips on stairs.
- Place latches on cabinet doors.
- Place covers over electrical outlets.
- Remove small rugs.
- Place handrails and mats in the shower.
Depending on the severity of their cognitive symptoms, you may not want to leave them unattended in the shower or tub or allow them to cook by themselves.
10. Engage in self-care
It’s important to take care of yourself, too. Caregiving can be physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausting. If possible, take advantage of respite care.
Also, try to maintain a balanced diet and get plenty of physical activity. Go for a walk and enjoy the fresh air. Get involved in activities that bring you joy.
Also, you can look into local or online caregiver support groups.
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive illness, and the rate of progression varies from person to person.
Some people are caregivers for only a few months, while others provide long-term care. It’s important to set up a short-term and long-term plan for medical care and financial and legal matters.