Most of us understand that Alzheimer’s and other dementias affect memory. One of the telltale signs is being able to give every detail of a situation from 20 years ago but the individual can’t remember if they ate lunch or retrieved the mail. But it becomes much more than forgetting information, an individual starts requiring assistance to perform activities of every day living: dressing, toileting, bathing, walking, meal preparation and basically all decision making.
As the disease attacks the brain, sight can become impaired, hearing loss may occur, and motor skills decline. Sometimes they may remember how to button a shirt, but their hands may not cooperate with completing the task independently, which can then create frustration. They are adults who have been able to complete tasks independently their entire lives and now they need help with even the simplest of things. Pile on the fact that being able to understand and comprehend their situation comes and goes, it can be a battle managing the disease.
When the Individual can’t perform basic tasks, who does? The Caregiver, who is the spouse, the child, the sibling, the grandchild, it is a loved one of the Individual. The Caregiver begins taking on responsibilities they may not have previously performed: mowing the lawn, managing the finances, doing laundry, cooking meals, maintaining the vehicles, etc. Getting dressed becomes a united effort. Toileting requires supervision and support. Communication requires patience and the ability to break down information and instruction into simple, one-step tasks. And then repeat the instruction more times than the Caregiver can count.
“It takes a village.” Managing dementia works best with a supportive team. Talk with the family physician if seeing signs of concerns. The Physician may make referrals for further testing and therapies to build the team and provide education. Physical, Occupational, Speech and Massage therapies can all be utilized at different phases of the disease to increase strength, cognition, range of motion, and comfort. Support groups, in person and online, are often informative and validating as Caregivers learn from other Caregivers what to expect and to normalize what their experiencing. Research findings increasingly document that education, information, and psychosocial programs and support can contribute to the quality of life, improve mental health outcomes for caregivers, and delay relocation to long-term care settings for individuals with dementia (Smits et al, 2007; The Gerontologist 2018).