It can be overwhelming when a spouse receives an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, but there are many networks in place to make sure that both of you have the support you need.
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive form of dementia ― an umbrella term for a handful of conditions that affect someone’s thinking, memory, behavior, personality, and more. Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia, and it affects more than 6 million people in the United States alone, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
An Alzheimer’s diagnosis can signify the beginning of a new chapter of life for the person with the diagnosis and those close to them. And for spouses of people living with Alzheimer’s disease, their role can often shift to caretaker, which can bring its own set of challenges.
This article discusses tips for taking care of your spouse after their Alzheimer’s diagnosis, including how to take care of yourself and when it might be time to reach out for professional support.
Alzheimer’s disease can eventually make it difficult for a person to perform certain tasks on their own, so it can be helpful to build a supportive medical team early on. Here are some of the medical professionals that commonly make up a medical care team for someone with Alzheimer’s:
- A primary care physician can help with general medical needs, like checkups, blood work, and specialist referrals.
- A dietitian or nutritionist can help someone with Alzheimer’s meet their nutritional needs at every stage of the disease.
- A physical therapist or speech and language therapist can help improve changes in movement and communication caused by the disease.
- An occupational therapist can help teach skills that can make day-to-day life with Alzheimer’s easier.
- A psychiatrist or psychologist can help someone navigate the emotional changes and overall impact that Alzheimer’s can cause.
- A social worker can help provide information on assistance and access to community-based resources.
Whether your spouse has only one or a few of these professionals on their care team, knowing that the care team is there to help is important.
As a spouse, it can be especially helpful to maintain an open line of communication with your loved one’s medical team. One of the ways that you can do this is by scheduling or sitting in on phone calls or meetings with the care team members.
Meetings and appointments are also a great time to bring up any concerns you might have ― or any goals that you and your spouse have discussed for care. And if you have any questions about anything related to your loved one’s medical care, be sure to mention those, too.
As Alzheimer’s disease progresses through the stages and the condition’s symptoms become more severe, your loved one may require more assistance with tasks of daily living. For many people, most of this care takes place at home.
Here are two helpful tips that can help as you care for your loved one.
Accommodate Alzheimer’s and dementia needs
Dementia can affect your spouse’s physical movements and their ability to think or use memory. If your home and lifestyle accommodate these needs, it can make day-to-day activities less stressful for both of you.
Those with dementia may benefit from:
- labels and reminders for important items, like medications, or household hazards, like cleaners
- physical accessibility aids like ramps or easy-to-open door handles
- a balanced diet high in veggies and other anti-inflammatory foods
- clothes and personal care items designed for low mobility
- living in a neighborhood without heavy traffic and with high walkability
- a regular social schedule with time to see friends and family
Learn more about caring for those with dementia.
Ask for support
Alzheimer’s disease can affect the lives of everyone involved, which is why support can be such an important part of care. And when you’re caring for a spouse with Alzheimer’s at home, support can come in many forms: financial, social, medical, and more.
Sometimes, this support looks like reaching out to a friend or family member for a little extra help with daily tasks like shopping and cooking. Or it might look like touching base with your spouse’s caseworker to sign up for financial assistance programs.
Either way, one of the great ways to care for yourself and your spouse is to reach out and ask for support in whatever area you might need.
Hire professional help
Someone with moderate to severe Alzheimer’s disease may find everyday tasks like dressing themselves, going to the bathroom, or even eating by themselves to be difficult. At this stage in the disease, caregiving can be ongoing.
As a caregiver to a spouse with Alzheimer’s, it can be difficult to keep up with their needs and your own ― which is where
Whether you’re looking for support for just a few hours or a longer time, it may help to take advantage of the help that’s around you.
Learn more about what professional care can look like.
The right time to consider professional help
When you’re the caretaker or someone close to you, it can be difficult to imagine entrusting that care to anyone else ― especially if it takes place outside the comfort of your own home.
However, sometimes your loved one might need more care than you can feasibly offer them, especially in the late stages of their disease. And toward the end of their life, some professionals can help navigate you both through the final stages of their journey.
While people can experience dementia differently, in some cases, the condition can cause episodes of anger, verbal aggression, or sometimes physical violence. Professional healthcare workers can help to ensure everyone’s safety and dignity.
If you feel that it might be time to explore professional caregiver or end-of-life support for your loved one, consider reaching out to their doctor to discuss the options available to you.
Spouses and partners of people living with Alzheimer’s disease tend to experience increased stress, anxiety, and depression. In fact, one 2020 study found that people whose spouses had Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias had a
Here are a few tips you can follow to take care of your health while caring for a spouse with Alzheimer’s:
- Take care of yourself: It can be hard to support your emotional health if you don’t support your physical health. Getting enough sleep, eating a balanced diet, and frequently moving your body are just a few ways you can take care of your body and mind.
- Practice reducing your stress: Full-time caretaking can be
stressful, so it’s important to set aside some time for activities that can reduce your stress. Not only can this help reduce your stress and improve your health, but it’ll also allow you to take better care of your loved one.
- Take time to enjoy hobbies: As a caregiver, you may notice that your own hobbies and activities can fall by the wayside as you focus on your spouse. But one way you can nurture yourself during this time is by reconnecting with the hobbies and activities you enjoy ― alone or with friends.
- Connect with your support: Speaking of connecting with others, no one should have to navigate life after a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease alone. Whether you connect with friends, support groups, or mental health professionals, try to lean on your support system when you need it.
- Take vacations: This could be a trip with friends or a few days solo at a bed-and-breakfast ― but everyone deserves a little time to focus on themselves and relax.
It’s common for Alzheimer’s caregivers to feel many emotions about their loved one’s diagnosis ― sadness, grief, frustration, and even anger. Sometimes, you can work through these feelings alone, but other times, it can be difficult to work through them without the right support.
If you feel like you could use support navigating through this difficult time, whether physical, financial, emotional, or otherwise, consider reaching out to the professionals around you who can help.