Helping Someone With Alzheimer's
Concrete ideas to help the Alzheimer's disease patient maintain quality of life and stay active.
How to help someone with Alzheimer's maintain their quality of life
A person with Alzheimer's is a unique individual. As a caregiver, you will want to do everything you can to preserve their dignity and confidence. Each person experiences Alzheimer's in their own way but, using encouragement, a reassuring routine and common-sense measures, you can help them to continue to make the best use of their skills and abilities as their condition changes.
Try to encourage the person with Alzheimer's to do whatever they can for themselves and only offer as much help as is necessary. If they are struggling with a task, avoid the temptation to take over completely, even though it may seem easier and quicker. If you take over, the person is likely to lose confidence and cope less well.
- If you do need to offer assistance, try to do things with the person rather than for them. The person will then be more likely to feel involved.
- Always try to focus on what the person can do rather than what they cannot do.
- Remember that they will have a short attention span and will be finding it hard to remember because of the Alzheimer's.
- Try to be patient and allow plenty of time. If you feel yourself becoming irritated, take time out. Make sure that the person is safe; then go into another room for a few minutes to give yourself some space.
- Give plenty of praise and encouragement.
Ways of helping
The person may find certain tasks increasingly difficult as the Alzheimer's progresses, while others may remain much longer. Adjust any help you offer accordingly so that they can continue to make the best use of the skills they still possess. Ways of helping that may be appropriate at different times include:
- The person may be able to complete a task when it is broken down into sections, even if they can't complete it. An example of this is getting dressed. Putting the clothes out in the order they are put on may make it possible for the person to continue to dress themselves. Achieving only one or two steps of a task may give them a sense of achievement.
- Give tactful verbal reminders or simple instructions. Try to imagine that you are the person receiving the help and speak in a way that you would find helpful.
- Doing things together, such as folding clothes or drying dishes, can be helpful.
- It is very important that the person with Alzheimer's does not feel that they are being supervised or criticized in any way. The tone of voice can imply criticism as well as the actual words.
- Pointing, demonstrating or guiding an action may sometimes be more helpful than verbal explanations when the Alzheimer's is more advanced. For example, the person may be able to brush their own hair if you start by gently guiding their hand.
A person with Alzheimer's may find it hard to cope with certain tasks either because of the Alzheimer's or because of other disabilities. An occupational therapist (OT) can advise on aids and adaptations and other ways to help the person retain their independence for as long as possible. You can contact an OT through social services (look in the phone book under your local council) or through your GP.
Any changes involving equipment or different approaches to practical tasks are more likely to be successful if they are introduced at an early stage when the person with Alzheimer's finds it possible to absorb new information.
- Feeling safe is such a basic human need that one might say our survival depends upon it. A person with Alzheimer's is likely to experience the world as an unsafe place for much of the time. We can only imagine how frightening it must be to experience the world in this way. This is why a person with Alzheimer's may try to keep as close as possible to people they recognize.
- The less anxious and stressed the person with Alzheimer's feels, the more likely they are to be able to use their skills to the best advantage. A relaxed, uncritical atmosphere is therefore very important.
- Familiar surroundings and a regular routine are reassuring for people with Alzheimer's.
- Too many conflicting sounds or too many people can add to confusion. If possible, turn off the radio or the television or, if the person needs to concentrate on something in particular, take them to a quiet place.
- A person with Alzheimer's is quite likely to be upset or embarrassed by their declining abilities or clumsiness. They will need plenty of reassurance.
- Although you need to be tactful and encouraging, sometimes the best thing when things go wrong is to have a good laugh together.
- U.S. Administration on Aging, Alzheimer's Disease - Caregiving Challenges booklet, 2005.
- Alzheimer's Association
- Alzheimer's Society - UK
Last Updated: 26 February 2016
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD