The book is divided into three sections: tips for making life easier during the progression of the disease, helpful information about Alzheimer’s and related dementias, and resources for people with Alzheimer’s as well as their caregivers and loved ones. The book identifies seven key functions of the brain in the pre-Alzheimer’s stage. These functions deal with memory, language, complex tasks, social skills, judgment and reasoning, ambulation, and the senses. During the normal aging process, a person experiences a slowdown in these functions. Dementia, however, causes a progressive loss in all of these areas. The caregiver must nurture the skills that remain, whether they are cognitive, social or physical.
In addition to the pre-Alzheimer’s stage, A Caregiver’s Guide to Alzheimer’s Disease breaks down the stages of the disease and discusses the changes that occur in the brain, which affect behavior. The book also offers practical tips for maintaining quality of life as much as possible, and mentally engaging a person with Alzheimer’s to help slow cognitive decline. The recommendations below have been excerpted from the book.
Following are some games that can help preserve the cognitive abilities of a person who has Alzheimer’s. Try engaging that person’s memory by having him or her:
Verbally identify household objects in order to promote language skills.
Identify people and objects in photographs.
Spend time doing activities enjoyed before the onset of the disease.
Play games that involve movement, such as bean bag tossing and following exercise tapes.
Decorate for the holidays. Not only will this make the environment more stimulating, but it will also cue the patient to the season.
The ability to perform complex tasks that were learned early in life can remain late in the disease progression. Help the person with Alzheimer’s by nourishing the skills that remain. Some of these may involve:
Long-term memories. Watch films or listen to music from that person’s youth, discuss books he or she has read, past vacations, favorite family members or past personal achievementsâ€”use your imagination!
Interests or hobbies learned before the disease. Invite the Alzheimer’s patient to participate in activities that involve using skills he or she still has; this could include working on a jigsaw puzzle, playing a musical instrument, or playing card games.
Socializing. Encourage participation in any activity that involves other people, such as adult day care programs, entertainment events, socials, neighborhood associations, friends and family. Early Alzheimer’s patients in particular may feel inferior because of their cognitive losses. They should be reassured that they can continue to be included in social gatherings.
Sensory perception. Try painting different colors in a single room, or different rooms in various colors. Increasing lighting can improve the patient’s concentration and may also reduce the risk of falls. Decorate the house, windows and table settings. Play music for stimulation during activities or to provide calm at rest times.
Here are a few caregiver tips for making life easier when caring for an Alzheimer’s patient:
Label the contents of drawers and cupboards.
Mark the passage of time on calendars by drawing an “X” on the days that have passed. Write down events to be looked forward to in the future.
Preserve private time for yourself. Dementia patients become dependent on their caregivers, and can become distressed when you are absent. Set privacy limits before this happens.
Establish a hygiene routine. Although the importance of hygiene diminishes for dementia patients, being clean and well dressed increases their dignity and self-esteem.
Keep a log of behavior disturbances. Make a note of what may have triggered the behavior, the time of day it occurred, and any other details you think are relevant. Look for patterns so you can avoid them in the future.
Delegate tasks now to prepare for the time when you will need help.
Lower the pitch of your voice. Don’t shout, as it may cause agitation.
Allow extra time for daily tasks to compensate for slowed reactions and reduced abilities. Don’t rush, as this can create a stressful situation unnecessarily.
Use easy-to-manage clothing, such as items that close in front rather than over the head, and use Velcro fastenings when possible.
Serve food in plates or bowls with a lip or rim (like a pie plate) to make it easier to get food on the fork. Attaching foam rubber to utensil handles will make them easier to grip. Keep finger foods on hand for snacks.
Consider getting a pet. Small animals such as birds, fish and gerbils can bring joy and the satisfaction of being needed to the dementia patient, and they are relatively easy to care for.
Childproof the environment. Install childproof locks on cabinets, put cleaners and sharp objects out of reach, remove objects that can be easily swallowed, and hide breakable valuables.
Following are some helpful online resources for caregivers of people with Alzheimer’s.
Find a wealth of information on numerous health-related topics at www.medlineplus.gov , which is co-sponsored by the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes on Health (NIH).
The National Institute on Aging focuses on aging research and sponsors www.alzheimers.org . This link will take you to the Alzheimer’s Disease Education and Referral (ADEAR) Center.
The Alzheimer’s Association is one of the nation’s leaders in providing information, education and support to people with Alzheimer’s, their families and caregivers.
The Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation , one of the world’s leading research groups, “collaborates with the other leading research institutions around the world in the global pursuit for the cause, care and cure of Alzheimer’s disease.”