Alzheimer’s Care: Getting to Know the Person Behind the Disease

Image of Hero Home Care worker on a walk with a client.

Is your loved one suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease? Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia – a general term to describe when the brain no longer functions properly. In the case of Alzheimer’s, the disease affects how the person remembers, thinks, and behaves.

Those with the disease often have trouble communicating or with comprehension, which makes supporting them difficult unless you know how to support them best: by focusing on the person, not the disease. 

Keep reading to learn more about Alzheimer’s, its symptoms, and how you can support the person behind the disease.  

How common is Alzheimer’s Disease?

Did you know that over 747,000 Canadians live with Alzheimer’s or dementia? Worldwide, an estimated 44 million people have dementia (more than the population of Canada). As of now, there are no proven treatments or cures. 

As we age, our brain’s ability to think and function decreases. Alzheimer’s is often diagnosed when the cognitive degradation is more severe and affects day-to-day life. 

While memory loss is often a key symptom, other symptoms include: 

  • Trouble doing once-easy tasks
  • Struggles with problem-solving
  • Changes in mood 
  • Difficulty communicating (written and spoken) 
  • Confusion about people and places

Stages of Alzheimer’s

The disease is often broken into four stages:

  1. Accepting a diagnosis: It can be difficult for many to accept the diagnosis, knowing it will affect their everyday life and impact their family, who will one day be needed to support them. This acceptance may take time, but researching and preparing can help ease the journey. 
  2. Early-Stage (mild): The individual often functions normally, with only intermittent cognitive decline. They may not notice it in themselves, but it is often more apparent to others. 
  3. Middle-Stage (moderate): This stage usually is the longest, where the individual shows more pronounced cognitive struggles and often requires assistance to simplify or complete tasks. 
  4. Late-Stage (severe): This final stage often requires around-the-clock care through full-time nurses at home, a care home, or hospice care. During this stage, the individual will significantly lose the ability to react to their environment and communicate effectively. It’s essential that even when communication is difficult, you still provide conversation, play music, or use gentle touch to calm and soothe. 

The best way to support someone with Alzheimer’s

If you are a caregiver for a loved one with Alzheimer’s, it can be emotional and challenging the further the disease progresses. To help you and your loved one navigate the disease and their relationship, here are a few ways to shift your focus to supporting the person, not reacting to the disease:

Keep them in familiar environments

It can be a struggle to wake up and not recognize your surroundings. Keeping the person in the same environment for as long as possible can help minimize this feeling of confusion. 

Create routines they can rely on

Routines can be a comfort for those in the early stages of dementia. Routines could be as simple as going for a walk after breakfast, playing games, or regular visits from their loved ones. Routines can help create stability from the confusion.

Help them find a purpose

As they begin to accept their diagnosis, support them in finding purpose. Talk about what they value in their life, what activities you can do together, and how the individual can use their talents and strengths for the community for their family.  

Give them space

In the earlier stages of Alzheimer’s, your loved one’s mental capacity may still support independence. Jumping in to help too fast can make them feel their independence has been taken away before they’re ready. Instead, follow their lead and offer help when they are doing something unhealthy, unsafe, or that could harm themselves or others. 

Create a calm environment

Do your best to create a calming environment for your loved one. This means staying calm when around them. Those with dementia and Alzheimer’s can feel our energy, even if we have a smile on our faces. Minimizing stress can help them better manage their symptoms. 

Find healthy activities to do

What safe activities can you do together? As their disease progresses, avoid memory games or games with complex rules. In the early stages, puzzles and games can provide valuable mental stimulation. But memory-intensive games should be phased out if you notice they struggle to remember the rules or their usual skill level decreases. 

Here are 50 more activities you can do with your loved one. 

If you choose an activity that includes many steps, like running errands, break down the activity into steps and only focus on the next step. An excellent example of this is setting the table. Encourage them to place the plates first, then remind them that the water glasses are next, then forks…etc. One step at a time reduces the chance of becoming overwhelmed and not remembering the steps.  

Incorporate humour

If your loved one enjoys jokes and humour, try incorporating that into your care strategy. This is an easy-to-do activity to connect and laugh (proving that laughter really is the best medicine). 

Support healthy eating and table conversations

Healthy eating supports the individual’s cognitive function and physical health. Eating together is a natural opportunity for some mental stimulation through conversation. As their memory function decreases, don’t be concerned if you have the same conversation every night. Just remember that telling them, “We talked about this yesterday,” can feel like an attack and increase their anxiety. Follow their lead on the conversation. 

Supporting your needs and well-being too

While supporting the person with Alzheimer’s is important, it shouldn’t be at the expense of your health and well-being. Ensure you’re eating right, exercising regularly and taking time for yourself. 

As the disease progresses, your loved one may need more support than you can physically or mentally provide on your own. This is why hiring an in-home care aid from Hero Home Care can help. We provide occasional, part-time, and full-time care for those with Alzheimer’s. We can provide nursing, companionship, or domestic support, giving you peace of mind knowing that a caring, trained professional is supporting your loved one. 

If you need more support or have questions, call the First Link Dementia Helpline or Hero Home Care