According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 5.7 million people in the United States are living with Alzheimer’s Disease. And there are more than 15 million Alzheimer’s and dementia caregivers taking care of them. Odds are that you have someone in your family with the disease, or know someone who does. You may have witnessed or lived with the strain of caring for a person with Alzheimer’s. The disease takes a toll on everyone around them, not just the patient.
Here are five helpful ways you can lend a hand to the person with Alzheimer’s or their caretakers.
- Educate yourself about the disease – learn to recognize the signs and stages of the disease. What behavioral changes can you expect over the coming months? How should you address each of these changes? Learn how it affects family members and how to respond. Be patient, as the disease affects patients and families differently.
- Offer to help – This can be a simple trip to the grocery store, a warm meal brought to their table, or a car ride to the doctor. Or offer a reprieve. Spend time with the person living with dementia so family members can go out and visit with friends. Taking away just one responsibility will ease the burden on the caregiver.
- Engage with the senior– If you visit, don’t ignore them or talk over their heads. Talk directly to them with a smile on your face. Listen patiently as they struggle to find words to reply. Don’t interrupt them while they are speaking, and don’t try to force them to recall events from the past.
- Stay in touch – Send a card to the senior, call the caregiver, or stop in for a visit. Extend an invitation for them to join you at a family event or fun excursion. Know their limitations regarding health and stress factors such as noise, and be prepared to alter the plans if necessary.
- Offer a shoulder to lean on – Listen to both the senior and the caregiver. You may have heard the story already, but don’t stop them because they don’t remember telling it. Also listen to the caregiver. While you can’t change the situation, just letting them express their challenges and frustrations can relieve some of their stress.
It’s important to remember that the person with Alzheimer’s is the same person they were before the disease. Have the same conversations, enjoy the same activities, and most important, don’t pull away from them. Your friendship and support are appreciated, even if the senior can’t express their emotions.