Supporting a family member through Alzheimer’s can be a difficult process, but there’s mental health help available for both of you.

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive form of dementia, a condition that causes changes in a person’s memory, language, thinking, and behavior. Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, affecting an estimated 6.5 million people in the United States alone as of 2022.

Because Alzheimer’s is progressive, it can eventually affect every aspect of a person’s life, including their relationships with loved ones. And whether you’re the caregiver of a person with Alzheimer’s or close to someone living with the disease, it can sometimes feel difficult and overwhelming for everyone involved.

So, let’s discuss how to cope with Alzheimer’s as a family member, including how to get the right support for you and your loved one.

Alzheimer’s disease can have a huge impact on not only the person living with it but also their family members and loved ones ― especially loved ones who are caregivers. When someone is a caregiver to someone living with Alzheimer’s, it can significantly affect their physical and emotional health.

One small 2022 study explored the physical, emotional, and social impact of Alzheimer’s on caregivers. Results of the study found that 58% of caregivers had increased stress, 47% became sleep deprived, and 43% felt socially isolated from other family members, among other difficulties.

But it’s not just the increased demands of being a caregiver that can affect family members and loved ones. As Alzheimer’s progresses, people living with it can experience challenges completing daily tasks, communicating with others, and remembering their family members and friends.

For many people who have loved ones with Alzheimer’s, this can be a painful process to observe and be a part of.

As Alzheimer’s progresses into the later stages, it can become more difficult for a person to perform various tasks in their daily life. For example, you might notice that your loved one has difficulty remembering people, places, or events or maintaining hygiene, eating, and drinking.

During these later stages of Alzheimer’s, your loved one may require additional caregiver support ― sometimes more than you can offer. When this happens, there’s no shame in reaching out for medical support.

Sometimes, you can do this directly through a primary care physician, as they may be familiar with your loved one’s situation and can refer you to the appropriate care.

However, you can also find support through national organizations, many of which specialize in providing education, search tools, and other resources that can help your loved one get the care they need.

Mental health support can be especially beneficial for people living with Alzheimer’s and their loved ones, especially as they navigate through the process of managing the disease in the long term.

Sometimes, this support is purely emotional, like having weekly or monthly sessions with a licensed therapist. Other times, it can look like trying different approaches that may benefit people with Alzheimer’s, like art and music therapy.

If you believe that you or a loved one would benefit from mental health support after an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, here are a few resources to get you started:

As Alzheimer’s symptoms worsen with the progression of the disease, it can sometimes lead to episodes of agitation, anger, or even aggression.

If you notice that your loved one experiences more of these symptoms, it’s natural to feel confused or hurt. But it’s important to understand that there’s usually a reason that someone with Alzheimer’s experiences these emotions or expresses these behaviors.

For example, if your loved one is in physical pain or discomfort but can’t express that to you in words, they may express it with anger instead. Or if they have a hard time adjusting emotionally to changes around them, this can lead to frustration and even aggression.

One of the best ways to approach these situations is to remain gentle and understanding. If you can figure out the underlying cause of these emotions or behaviors, you can help ease some of that frustration or anger.

And, of course, it never hurts to reach out for support from a doctor or therapist if you think it would benefit your loved one.

You’re not alone

If you’re among the tens of millions of people worldwide affected by Alzheimer’s, especially as a loved one or a caregiver, you’re not alone, and there’s support available.

Here are just a few of the organizations you can check out for education, support, and other resources:

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It can be difficult to watch someone you care about lose memories of different parts of their lives, especially if those memories involve you and the things you experienced together. But sometimes, it’s possible to ignite that nostalgia ― and here are a few approaches that might help.

Use visual aids

Photographs and videos are some of the most helpful tools for people with dementia because they can serve as a great reminder of past people, places, or events. Sometimes, simply looking at a photo or video can help bring back memories.

Engage with them

While showing someone a photo can help stir up their memory, engaging with your loved one about the memory can be even more helpful and meaningful. Of course, you don’t want to force them to try and remember ― just sparking gentle conversation is enough.

Be understanding

When someone with Alzheimer’s has challenges remembering things, try to remember that it’s not their fault. Even if it hurts that your loved one can’t remember your name or any activities you’ve done together, try to understand that it’s the disease, not them.

Find joy in the experience

While watching a loved one lose memories can be difficult, you can use this to create joy for them. They may not remember their favorite music, treats, or their love for visiting the zoo, but if you keep these things in their lives, you can give them the joy of that discovery over and over again.

Alzheimer’s disease may affect not only those with it but also their family members and loved ones. If someone you love has received a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, there’s support available to help you navigate the process of living with and managing it.