CHALLENGES ALZHEIMER’S CAREGIVERS FACE

Alzheimer’s disease changes behavior and makes it unpredictable. You may notice your loved one acting in ways he never did before. Living with things like verbal and physical aggression, combativeness, and mood swings result in tension and frustration for both of you. As a caregiver, you will have to supervise your family member more and more. Your fears for his physical safety and the very real possibility that he might just wander away from home or away from you in a public place can cause you a lot of stress. Many of the behavior changes are out of your loved one’s control, and he is not doing these things on purpose or to get back at you.

In the beginning, memories of the recent past are affected, and this symptom may just seem to be a part of growing older. Problems with learning and recalling new things may also appear to be related to age. Unfortunately, Alzheimer’s gradually affects long term memories during the course of the disease.

Many behavior changes will develop over the course of the disease. At least at the beginning, your loved one is aware of their condition. A small part of the behavior changes may be a reaction to their own attempts to deal with the symptoms they are experiencing. Alzheimer’s sufferers may be feeling physical discomfort or pain from medications or another illness. Familiar faces, places, and objects are no longer recognized. The ability to follow along through simple instructions and accomplish a task is drastically impaired. You may notice that translating thoughts into speech becomes harder. Alzheimer’s patients often cannot take things that happen around them in stride any more. So, loud and busy environments with a lot of activity cause overstimulation and result in irritability and sometimes aggressive behavior.

There are a few ways you can cope with the challenging behaviors you will experience while caring for your family member with Alzheimer’s. This is not an easy road, and you will have to dig deep inside of you for strength. It is very similar to raising a large demanding child. If you can return to all the parenting behaviors that you developed while raising your children, your life as a caregiver will be easier.

You will need all your patience and things will go smoother if you remain calm, understanding, and flexible. Even if you cannot allow what your loved one wants, you should still recognize and answer your family member’s demands. Be firm, and resist the urge to argue or convince your loved one that your decision is the right one. Remember, Alzheimer’s affects your loved one’s judgment and decision making abilities; as a caregiver, it is up to you to keep them safe. Your family member’s behaviors are a result of the disease: they are not aimed at you. So, do not take the situations that develop personally.

Another way to make your life easier as a caregiver is to try to recognize what caused the challenging behavior. Perhaps a specific incident happened that triggered the worrisome response. Once you have identified a possible trigger for the behavior try to come up with some possible methods of dealing with it. If your family member wanted or needed something, you can take steps to have it available in the future, within reason.

Perhaps the environment triggered the incident. You can take steps to change the ambience. Sometimes more light, less clutter, and less noise can have a remarkable effect on your loved one’s actions. You may consider whether your response was calm and supportive. Like raising your children, being a caregiver to a family member with Alzheimer’s does not come with a set of instructions. You will need to learn what works as you go.

So, you should try to evaluate if your solution and response was successful in diffusing the situation or not, every step of the way. Keep in mind, no matter how much they frustrate and annoy you, how much you love them. If you let that feeling flow freely, your loved one will feel it and respond to it no matter what stage of the disease he is in.

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