Caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) can be an exceptionally stressful and emotional journey for both the caregiver and the person with Alzheimer’s. If you are a caregiver for someone with AD there are some things that you can do to emotionally support your loved one experiencing AD.
1. Take care of yourself
Caregiver burnout is a real challenge. As the old saying goes, “you can’t pour from an empty cup.” It is important that you create a support plan for yourself so that you can continue to take care of your loved one.1 Ask for help when you need it, join a support group, make use of your available resources, find healthy ways to manage the stress of caring for your loved one, and know your limitations, both physically and emotionally. Learn the warning signs of burn out.
2. Stay active and have fun
People with AD can still enjoy fun activities, and many people with early-stage ALzheimer’s note that vigorous activity can help them focus better.2,3Physical activity can help ease symptoms of depression, which can also occur in people with AD.3 Beyond all else, exercise helps build and maintain physical health, which is important for everyone. Keep exercise fun by going to places like parks, zoos, museums and hiking trails.2
3. Balance self-dignity and independence with safety
It is important to protect a person with Alzheimer’s self-esteem and independence whenever possible. While it is important to simplify tasks for people with AD, nobody wants to feel like they are helpless or disabled. Allow loved ones the opportunity to complete a task independently whenever possible, while keeping in mind the person’s ability to perform that task safely.2,3
4. Try to think on their level
People with AD may not always think clearly and sometimes they may feel paranoid, have memory flashbacks, or even have delusions. Rather than trying to reason with a loved one, it may help to just ask them questions about what they are experiencing at that exact moment. For example, if a loved one talks about a person who has passed away as though they are alive, it may be best to just talk about that person. Reminding a loved one that someone has passed away may cause them to have to mourn that death all over again.2,3
5. Develop routines
It is important for people with Alzheimer’s to have set schedules and routines. Predictability can limit irritability and frustration for both your loved one and yourself.2
6. Don’t shout, and don’t argue
When you become frustrated it can be easy to raise your voice. Try your hardest to speak in an even, calm tone, and try not to argue if possible.3 Shouting and arguing with someone with AD will frustrate and upset you both, and won’t accomplish anything. It’s okay to let arguments go and not be right.2
Music makes connections, even among people with late-stage AD.3 It doesn’t matter if you can’t carry a tune, singing to people with AD, even if it’s a simple childhood song, can make them less aggressive, more aware, more likely to communicate and even show improved movement. Background music may also have similar positive effects on people with AD.3
8. Be your loved one’s leader
People with AD need someone who can take charge and advocate for them.2,3 As a caregiver, you may have to make decisions for your loved one, which can be scary. In the early stages of AD, begin taking care of essential documents like advanced directives, living wills, and wills. These conversations are hard but important, and you may have to lead them.
9. Keep things simple
When speaking to people with AD, use simple words and try to avoid pronouns, which can be hard for people with AD to follow. Remember also, that crowds can easily overwhelm people with AD, even when the crowd is their own family. People with AD have a harder time filtering sounds in large gatherings, which can frustrate and confuse them. It is okay to have smaller, shorter gatherings for those with AD.
10. Communicate in any way possible
People with AD can become very clued into body language and non-verbal cues.2 A kind touch can be an important indication of love as language begins to deteriorate.2 Music, art and reading are all ways that you can connect and communicate with your loved one, as is an emphasis on positive, kind speech.2 Even if someone with AD doesn’t recognize what you say, the can recognize the emotion behind it.3
Remember, it’s okay to ask for help from any of your resources (friends, family, community, or healthcare team) as you take care of your loved one with AD. Don’t be hard on yourself if you or your loved one has a bad day, and things get messy. You are still human, and your loved one knows that you care about them.
Robinson L, Wayne M, Segal J. Tips for Alzheimer's & Dementia Caregivers. HelpGuide.org. https://www.helpguide.org/articles/alzheimers-dementia-aging/tips-for-alzheimers-caregivers.htm/. Published 2019. Accessed May 31, 2019.
Sauer A, Sauer A. Things to Remember If You Love Someone With Dementia. Alzheimers.net. https://www.alzheimers.net/2-11-15-loving-someone-with-dementia/. Published 2019. Accessed May 31, 2019.
The emotional side of Alzheimer's disease - Harvard Health. Harvard Health. https://www.health.harvard.edu/newshttps://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/the-emotional-side-of-alzheimers-diseaseletter_article/the-emotional-side-of-alzheimers-disease. Published 2019. Accessed May 31, 2019.