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May 29, 2012 > Help for Seniors and families coping with Alzheimers

Help for Seniors and families coping with Alzheimers

Submitted By Stacey Hilton, Senior Helpers

The federal government recently launched a National Alzheimer's Plan to find a cure for Alzheimer's disease by 2025. Part of that plan is to find ways for struggling families to better cope with the disease, today. A new program is called Senior Gems is a step-by-step guide that teaches hands-on care providers and families how to care for loved ones through each stage of dementia and Alzheimer's.

"I'm thrilled with our government's new commitment to confront Alzheimers because it is taking a devastating toll on families across America," says Teepa Snow. "I certainly hope the researchers, with the new governmental support, will find a cure by 2025. But until and unless that happens, we can't just wait. Millions of people are living with various forms of dementia, not just Alzheimers. We are taking action by training Senior Helpers caregivers and family members in communities across the nation, how to better care for and communicate with our loved ones who are doing the best they can while living with a progressive condition that is robbing them of themselves."

Quick Do's and Don'ts of working with people who have Dementia:
* Offer Supportive NOT Confrontational Communication
* Emphasize what you want to have happen, NOT who's the boss or who's right
* Recognize the value of mistakes or 'UH OHs' - and turn them into new strategies and 'AH HAs!'
* Provide short, simple information rather than asking questions you do NOT want to hear the answer to
* Offer concrete and clear options or choices rather than wide open requests that require both word-finding and decision-making to answer

Most seniors with Alzheimer's can perform a task once they get started, but they may have trouble initiating or switching tasks. Their abilities fluctuate from day to day, day to night, person to person, and minute to minute. This makes it hard to exactly predict what they will or will not be able to do. It means caregivers need to be flexible and supportive rather than pointing out the errors and getting frustrated with the changing abilities.

Memory failure:
If an Alzheimer's patient forgets about a doctor's appointment, don't say "How could you forget? I told you three times!" This is frustrating for the senior to hear and puts them on the defensive. Remember, caregiving is not about being right.

Do say "I am sorry we didn't get things worked out ahead of time for that appointment... (pause)... I thought I had said something about it, but I may not have. I will have to try to do a better job of making sure that happens, next time." This helps break the communication barrier and helps the senior feel that you are on his/her side.

Alzheimer's patients can't remember new information but old memories are still intact. This is brain failure.

Don't tell your mother with Alzheimer's to meet you at Macy's at the mall if it has moved to a new location. She will go to where Macy's used to be - to what is now JC Penny's - because she can't remember the new information that Macy's has moved. She may even drive around for hours trying to find Macy's in the old location.

Do take your mother to the mall or hire a caregiver to take her. If you bring her there, she can't get lost.

Show and Tell:
When you're caring for a senior with dementia, it's important to show them how to perform everyday tasks instead of telling them how to do something. It's called show-and-tell.

Don't pull your dad with Alzheimer's out of his seat and start leading him to the restroom. To him, that's forceful.

Do, instead, show him with your hands and verbally tell him to stand up. Then, place his hand in yours and walk along side of him (not in front of him). This shows him that you're guiding him with acceptance, and not forcing him to do something.

Don't put a glass of juice in front of your dad's mouth because he'll become defensive, thinking you're trying to force juice down his mouth.

Do take that glass of juice, while at his side (not in front of him), and with your hand in his, bring it to his mouth. He will more likely welcome that gesture and not think you're "coming at him."

"In any situation, it's best to use empathy and validation rather than a reality check or lies. And it's vital that we act now because our families are suffering," says Snow. "They don't understand the disease - and there's no one to teach them. That's why we started this program; to give families answers and show them, in practical terms, how to improve the quality of life for Alzheimer's patients and themselves, through better communication."

The primary goal is to not ASSIGN BLAME and to recognize the person is having difficulty holding onto details and information SO we are going to have to change how we go about setting things up and expecting follow through. Try to see it as a 'learning moment' not a frustrating problem. The trick is that person may very well remember the next appointment without a problem - the memory loss comes and goes in the early phases so you can't depend on it either way. Learn how to PLAN for the worst and celebrate the best when it happens! Arguing with someone who is having trouble holding onto new information although they are fine with old information is not helpful.

Keeping communication open and friendly is critical as you are trying to figure out how to help in ways that are acceptable and effective.

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