Alzheimer’s disease – or any form of dementia – is more feared than cancer. Nobody wants to lose their memory and forget who they are. Still, an estimated 5.8 million Americans of all ages live with Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s patients include 5.6 million people age 65 and older, and surprisingly, 200,000 people under age 65.
As Alzheimer’s progresses, a person loses their memory but also their independence. The loss of independence can lead to severe depression for many.
While scientists work hard to find a cure for Alzheimer’s, here are eight ways to help a family member experiencing any form or stage of dementia:
1. Learn to recognize the early signs and symptom progression
Most early symptoms of dementia will be clearly related to cognitive impairment like being unable to find a word, vision issues, and impaired reasoning. As the disease progresses, these symptoms worsen.
At first, the signs can be subtle. A lost word here and there, or a misplaced item. Difficulty paying bills, wandering through the house, repeating questions, and sometimes increased aggression and anxiety.
The Reisberg Scale outlines the distinct stages an Alzheimer’s patient goes through. The disease begins with a mild forgetfulness, progresses into significant memory loss, and eventually results in an inability to speak.
Recognizing the early signs and knowing how the disease progresses will help you put a plan in place to aid your loved one should they end up with an official diagnosis of dementia.
2. Use nutrition to support cognitive function
Have your family member eat foods that support cognitive function and boost brain power. Instead of looking for a diet with a special brand name to follow, learn the specifics of what foods fuel the brain. Then, incorporate those foods into daily meals. For example, data suggests these three branded diets all support cognitive function. Each diet is different, yet they all have been found to decrease cognitive decline.
According to the Mayo Clinic, the Mediterranean Diet is associated with a reduced risk of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. The Mediterranean Diet reduces inflammation and oxidative stress – two factors perceived to be the cause of cognitive decline.
Experiment with diet. Eliminate known neurotoxins and foods that cause stress to any bodily system. Add some MCT oil to morning smoothies. Feed the brain what it needs to perform well.
3. Get the right care
In the early stages, it’s not difficult to take care of someone with Alzheimer’s. As the disease progresses, however, it becomes increasingly difficult as more supervision and assistance is needed.
Regular assisted living isn’t enough for a person with Alzheimer’s, but there are assisted living memory care centers that provide appropriate care around the clock. To find a memory care center, you can do a memory care search on Seniorly.com.
4. Don’t project onto their experience
The common belief is that people with Alzheimer’s or any form of dementia must be suffering unbearably from a loss of memory and/or personal identity. That’s not always the case. Often, it’s a projection that an Alzheimer’s patient must be suffering because they can’t remember the names of their family members.
Dr. Peter Rabins, psychiatrist and co-author of The 36-Hour Day says, “I’ve seen that you can be a wonderful grandparent and not remember the name of the grandchild you adore. You can be with people you love and enjoy them, even if you’re not following the whole conversation.”
Rabins notes that only 25% of people with dementia report a negative quality of life, and most of those people’s conditions are severe.
Avoid projecting suffering onto someone with Alzheimer’s. Talk with them to find out if they are suffering. If they’re not suffering, don’t interact with them as if they are. Support them with empathy and understanding.
5. Keep your family member social
Anyone suffering from a form of dementia will benefit from maintaining social connections.
6. Establish a daily routine
As tasks become more difficult, your family member is likely to become frustrated. The best way to ease frustrations is to establish a routine.
7. Provide your family member with choices
Your family member wants to maintain some control over their life, so give them choices rather than dictating everything. For example, let them choose between two outfits, ask if they’d like something hot or cold to drink, or if they want to go for a walk or watch a movie.
8. Simplify daily life
The simpler daily life can get, the better it will be for a person with Alzheimer’s. If you need to give them instructions, provide one step at a time and be as clear as possible.
Need more help?
Adjust these tips to meet your family member’s needs and be sure to consult a physician before making any dietary changes. Remember, the symptoms of Alzheimer’s increase in severity over time, but each person progresses differently.
For more information, read the Alzheimer’s care guide published by the Mayo Clinic.