There are currently 5.4 million Americans living with Alzheimer's disease, which represents the sixth-leading cause of death in the U.S.
For families, the first days and weeks following a diagnosis of Alzheimer's can be confusing, scary and filled with questions. In honor of November's National Alzheimer's Disease Awareness month, we've put together a list of tips to help families that are caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's disease.
Because memory loss is one of the leading symptoms for Alzheimer's sufferers, caring for a family member with Alzheimer's can be extremely challenging, especially for untrained individuals. We know how overwhelming it can be, but there are ways to create a strong support system and utilize organizational tools to ease the everyday stress.
Put together a team. This isn't a task you want to tackle alone. Luckily, there are programs to assist families who are caring for Alzheimer's sufferers. BrightStar Clinical Pathways offers a comprehensive 30-day transitional-care program specializing in delirium and dementia. The evidence-based program is designed to empower people with dementia to be aware of their symptoms and know how to manage their condition. Throughout the course of the 30-day program, a registered nurse visits once a week and a specially trained caregiver visits an additional 4-5 times per week. The intense oversight and care schedule helps families stay involved and informed while providing the highest quality of care.
Recognize what's normal. Forgetfulness is a common symptom of aging and isn't always the result of Alzheimer's or dementia. While forgetting what you had for dinner last night may be a typical slip of memory, forgetting how to prepare a favorite meal or putting things in unusual places are likely symptoms of something more serious. It's important to make the distinction between what is normal and what is not.
Stay organized. With multiple physician orders, appointment dates and medications to take, things can get cluttered and unorganized quickly. An online tool, like CareTogether, helps keep communication open between caregivers and family members. CareTogether allows everyone involved in the care process to access calendar appointments, health updates and medicine scheduling for the individual. In addition, CareTogether has condition-specific resources available to further assist caregivers for specific conditions including dementia.
Record changes. Keep track of any changes in behavior and be prepared to explain the differences to the caregiver team. While changes may seem insubstantial, they could signify a decline in your loved one's health or in many instances, another illness super-imposed on top of the underlying dementia.
Be supportive. Listen to your loved one and respect their needs. Coping with the diagnosis, symptoms and an overall lifestyle change can be extremely difficult. Keep communication open and make sure everyone involved in the care process can communicate their needs, emotions and even frustrations effectively. Although it may be difficult to talk openly, it can greatly relieve stress.
Sharon Roth Maguire is a geriatric nurse practitioner at and vice president of quality and clinical operations at BrightStar Care, Gurnee, IL. For more information, visit www.BrightStarCare.com.