10 tips for caring for a parent with Alzheimer’s

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Caring for a parent with Alzheimer’s disease can be a stressful experience. From managing medications to navigating new changes in your loved one’s behaviour, it can be a lot for one person to take on alone.

Fortunately, we’ve got you covered. Here are our 10 most effective tips for caring for a parent with Alzheimer’s.

  • Create a safe environment

Because Alzheimer’s can negatively affect people’s judgement and problem-solving skills, it’s important to assess their living environment for safety. Everyday objects, furniture, and utensils have the potential to increase your loved one’s risk of injury. ​​

The Mayo Clinic recommends enhancing the safety of your parent’s home by:

    • Assessing the environment: Pathways in the home should be clear of furniture and clutter to prevent tripping hazards. Use rug pads to keep floor rugs from slipping and install handrails in the bathroom and other places.
    • Putting dangerous items out of sight: Keep medicine, toxic cleaning supplies, or heavy tools out of reach and locked up.
    • Being fire aware: Ensure your loved one isn’t alone when cooking, lighting candles, or smoking. Keep a fire extinguisher nearby and make sure smoking alarms are in perfect working condition.
  • Talk to your loved one’s doctor

Connecting with your loved one’s medical team will give you the information you need to give them the best care possible. A doctor can talk you through the stages of Alzheimer’s and let you know exactly what to expect. 

They can help you prepare for caregiving by: 

    • Explaining the signs and symptoms: Know what the symptoms to watch out for, like memory loss, confusion, and changes in behaviour.
    • Distinguishing between normal signs of ageing and dementia: There are important differences between changes due to normal ageing and dementia-related cognitive decline.
    • Providing caregiving resources: A good physician will be able to point you in the direction of books, workshops, and other helpful dementia materials.
  • Build a daily routine

From brushing their teeth to reading before bedtime, doing the same activity at the same time each day has been shown to increase cognitive function in Alzheimer’s patients. Routines can help your loved one feel in control and give them a greater quality of life.

A strong daily routine can:

    • Reduce anxiety: Knowing what to expect each day can help keep your parent calm and reassured.
    • Encourage independence: Letting your parent do the dishes or fold laundry can increase their self-efficacy and self-esteem.
    • Relieve caregiver stress: The benefits of routine can even extend to you as you care for your parent.

  • Provide a healthy diet

Eating a Mediterranean or MIND diet containing leafy greens, oily fish, and limited saturated fats has been shown to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by 53%. It’s also beneficial if your loved one has already been diagnosed with the disease.

Help ease symptoms of dementia by:

    • Providing a heart-healthy diet: Dark leafy greens, fruits, vegetables, protein, grains, and healthy oils like olive oil.
    • Encouraging hydration: Make sure your loved one drinks at least 8 ounces of water a day to avoid dehydration, constipation, and urinary tract infections.
    • Avoiding fried food: Limit foods that are high in saturated fat and cholesterol. Cut down on foods high in sugar and salt.
  • Incorporate light exercise

Maintaining a consistent exercise routine has many benefits for older people with Alzheimer’s disease. It improves cardio-vascular health, prevents muscle loss, and can improve sleep and bathroom habits of seniors. There is also some evidence that regular physical activity can lead to a small improvement in cognitive function.

Some things to consider when introducing more movement:

    • Be realistic: Your parent doesn’t need to train for an ultramarathon. When incorporating physical activity, it’s best to start with shorter activity sessions and build from there.
    • Get outside: One of the easiest and most enjoyable ways to add exercise to your loved one’s routine is by going for daily walks.
    • Dress for the occasion: Make sure your loved one is wearing comfortable clothing and shoes that are designed for exercise.
  • Monitor their medication

While medication is not effective in all Alzheimer’s cases, sometimes prescribing cognitive enhancers—which are designed to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s symptoms—can help. If your loved one is exhibiting behavioural changes or sleep issues, they may be prescribed antidepressants.

Take care of them by:

    • Asking questions: Learn about the dosage, side effects, and any safety issues with your parent’s medication.
    • Maintaining a schedule: Make sure your parent follows the instructions on the medication label exactly.
    • Monitoring their progress: Take note of their progress and share with their doctor next time you visit.
  • Try music therapy

They say music is a balm for the soul, but research suggests it may also support those living with Alzheimer’s disease. Playing your loved one’s favourite song or asking them to pick up an instrument they used to play can evoke a strong response or memory.

The benefits of music therapy include:

    • Prevent agitation: Music can reduce feelings of anxiety and depression and help your loved one better express their emotions.
    • Be a welcome distraction: Using music on walks can help your loved one go farther and enjoy the activity more.
    • Calm and soothe: Music can help your loved one relax and stay calm, especially in the later stages of Alzheimer’s.
  • Practice good sleep hygiene

Our circadian rhythms inform our sleep/wake cycles. Our bodies release the hormone cortisol to wake us up in the morning, and give us melatonin to aid sleep at night. However, many Alzheimer’s patients have a disrupted circadian rhythm which can lead to sleep disorders and changes in behaviour.

To improve your loved one’s sleep hygiene:

    • Stay active during the day: Keeping your loved one busy and making sure they get some natural sunlight during the day helps regulate their sleep at night.
    • Avoid stimulants: From late afternoon onwards, avoid giving your loved one tea or coffee, and no alcohol three hours before their bedtime.
    • Change your lights: Some research suggests that blue ​​light therapy can reduce restlessness and confusion for people with dementia.
  • Use memory tools

As Alzheimer’s progresses, your loved one may start to show a decline in their thinking and reasoning skills, finding it more difficult to remember simple, everyday things. Forgetting what they used to know can cause agitation and impatience, so it’s important to listen to their concerns and reassure them.

There are memory tools you can use to help your loved one, including:

    • Calendars: Place a large calendar where your loved one will see it frequently. Add important events like birthdays, doctor appointments, or anything else your parent wants to remember.
    • Keep a journal: Get them to write down what they did in a day or stick physical memories like train tickets or photographs in the pages of the journal.
    • Electronic aids: New technology like voice assistants can let your loved one know that it’s time for dinner or when their favourite show is on.
  • Ask for help when you need it

Each Alzheimer’s journey is different and not everybody has a schedule that can accomodate caring for an elderly parent with Alzheimer’s—especially alongside other responsibilities like working and raising a family. 

If this is your situation, consider a home care service like Nurse Next Door. Our expert home caregivers will do everything to ensure your loved one is comfortable and well taken care of in their home. 

Caregivers can help your parent experience happier aging by:

  • Preventing wandering, support your loved one’s medical needs, and monitor their health symptoms.
  • Visiting a few times a week to help out with everyday tasks like laundry, meal preparation and dishes. 
  • Providing meaningful social interaction. We’re committed to finding the best personality match for your parent.

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Find out more about In-Home Alzheimer’s Care and Dementia Care here.

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