Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia that can touch almost anyone, especially those over 60 years of age. Big adjustments have to be made, and lifestyles alter for everyone in the family should you decide to bring a parent into the home. It’s a big decision, and preparations should be made to help all family members adjust. Family roles change, incomes change, daily routines change. Some changes are easier than others, but knowing what to expect can help everyone prepare for the experience.
There will be good days and bad days, laughter and tears, and although it may be overwhelming, it’s best if an attitude of patience and understanding can be adopted, taking things one day at a time.
Alzheimer’s can affect memory. Memory lapses can be sporadic, and can happen by degrees. Your loved one may remember you one day and recall fond memories, and the next day, not know your name or remember any of the good times you had. It’s difficult, but accepting that this as your new reality is part of the care-giving process. Dementia affects the personality. Your loved one has no control over this, and isn’t intentionally behaving in a way that, at times, can seem argumentative, defiant, and uncharacteristic.
There will be a fluctuation between short-term and long-term memory. A person may wander away from home, or become lost in that home. They may forget how to turn a doorknob or use the restroom. They may forget the words for familiar objects, like a clock, or a book, or a chair.
It’s a good idea to discuss these changes with your partner and children, regardless of their ages. Although our first instinct is to protect our children from painful experiences, being honest with them helps everyone. You don’t have to explain everything in complicated medical terms. Just explain in simple terms that sometimes grandparents develop a disease that affects their memory and behavior, and encourage them to try to be understanding and helpful. Always leave an open door for your children to discuss their concerns, fears, and sadness with you. Let them know that you feel some of the same emotions they do, and that other families deal with this situation, and that they aren’t alone.
Driving will become dangerous for the person who has Alzheimer’s, and it is extremely important for the caregiver to expect this and be ready to address taking the car keys when it becomes necessary. It will be hard to convince the person that the time to give up driving has arrived, but it has to take place.
If you become a caregiver, you will have to do things for your loved one that was simple for them before, like pouring a glass of milk, finding their wallet, or dressing themselves. Your children may want to help out with these small tasks, so allow them, unless there is a safety risk involved.
You will have to safeguard the home to make sure everyone in the family is safe. A simple bath can be dangerous if your loved one has forgotten how to turn the hot water faucet on and off to adjust the temperature. If your loved one forgets how to turn a cooking stove off, a fire could break out. Close supervision will be necessary at times like this.
These dangers should be explained to your children, and it’s a good idea to rehearse emergency scenarios with them so that they can be safe, or offer safety, if the need arises.
Your parent may even become hostile with you when it comes to everyday tasks like bathing, grooming, or eating. They may exhibit an irrational fear of water, clothes, or food.
Alzheimer’s and dementia go hand in hand. This is the hardest aspect to accept—that your loved one is losing and will continue to lose his or her mental faculties.
At first your parent may resent the fact that he or she needs help and that you are present in their lives in a way that may seem intrusive and overbearing to them. Especially in the early stages when they do have periods of clarity and normalcy. Your loved one will feel anger at losing the ability to do the things they once did. They may feel out of place in your home, or think that they are a burden. You may feel this as a personal attack, but try to see it as anger toward Alzheimer’s and what is happening. They aren’t angry at you. They’re angry at what the disease has done to them and how it’s affected their life.
When it comes to medications, there are some available that help deal with the symptoms, but there is no cure yet. In most cases, Alzheimer’s is a disorder of the brain caused by aging, and there isn’t a lot that can be done about the natural process.
An Alzheimer patient’s personality can change so drastically that it will cause distress to the caregiver. You may not even recognize the person your loved one has become. It is normal for you to feel this way. When your loved one walks away from you, calls you by someone else’s name, refuses to eat, bathe, dress, take medication, or strikes you, know that it is Alzheimer’s symptoms, not the true essence of your loved one.
It isn’t easy watching your parent revert to childlike behavior. Try to be patient and understanding. If it becomes overwhelming for you, and it does for a lot of caregivers, do something to take care of yourself, take time out, and decide if you can continue to give care.
Caring for a parent with Alzheimer’s is challenging and selfless, but realize that the day may come when your parent needs the care of a nursing home or other facility, especially if he or she becomes a danger to self or other family members. You can expect to have mixed emotions. As much as you love your parent and want to provide care, you are only human, with human limitations.
If you arrange for your parent to enter a nursing home or the Alzheimer’s unit of a hospital, explain to your children why it’s necessary, and remind them that they can always visit. It won’t be an easy time for any of you, but sometimes the best decisions are the hardest ones to make.
There are resources available to families caring for a person living with Alzheimer’s: For best results, check with your local Adult Services Agency or Family Services Office.
. Support groups.
. Respite care.
. Community volunteers/services.
. Adult sitters.
. Visiting nurses.
. Medical transportation.
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