September is World Alzheimer's Month, which means that it is important to spread awareness about Alzheimer's and dementia. There is so much that goes into living with dementia, and as family caregivers, you are often expected to become experts seemingly overnight. Remember that educating yourself about Alzheimer's and dementia can be very empowering, allowing you and your loved one to be prepared for the future. So, this guide is here to get you started with the different stages and behaviors you might experience as a family caregiver and provide a launch point for further research.
Diagnosis and Acceptance
When your loved one first receives a diagnosis, there will be a brief interval of time where everyone needs to adjust and accept it. It is completely normal for different family members, and the person affected, to be in different stages of acceptance at different times. You, as the caregiver, may even come to accept the diagnosis at a different time than other friends and family members. Upon diagnosis it is important to know that you and your loved one will experience grief, sadness, and a variety of other emotions. You and your loved one may also go through a period of time where you are trying to learn everything you can about the diagnosis, and then finally reach a stage where you are ready to plan for the future.
During the early stage of Alzheimer's or dementia, the symptoms your loved one has will be mild and sometimes barely noticeable. At this point in time your main role as family caregiver will be one of support. This means that your loved one is mainly in control and independent. You may want to support your loved one by helping them find new ways to cope with their symptoms and make lifestyle choices that they find helpful. Something else that many caregivers find helpful is helping their loved one develop a routine and schedule, which helps their loved one later when symptoms become more pronounced.
Often the longest stage of Alzheimer's, the middle stage, makes it difficult for your loved one to express themselves and perform routine tasks. This makes your loved one more prone to anxiety, frustration, and acting out. The middle stage includes challenging days, but also good days. As a caregiver your structure and routine will become more important, and independence for your loved one will be more difficult. You will need to be more flexible and start building a support system for caregiving that includes respite care. Many caregivers find it helpful during these stages to find support groups, counseling, and communicating with others who are also caregivers of someone with dementia. This helps caregivers have a wonderful source of information, support, and inspiration.
During the late stage of Alzheimer’s, caregivers can expect it to become eventually necessary for intensive, round-the-clock care. This stage can last several weeks or even several years. Your loved one may need assistance with everything from eating to walking, and personal care. Caregivers usually focus on preserving the quality of life for their loved one, as well as their dignity. Respite care and support from professionals is very important in this stage, and caregivers report that it helps to try the following activities to stay connected to their loved one:
- Playing your loved one’s favorite music
- Reading books aloud that have meaning for your loved one
- Looking through old photos together
- Preparing and eating a favorite meal
- Use of your loved one’s favorite scents
- Sitting together outside
As a caregiver, there will be many challenges you face, but caring for your loved one can also be very rewarding. If you need help or resources to help you on your journey, then Homewatch CareGivers of Woodbridge is here for you. We are always on hand to provide the resources you need, so contact us today.