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Caregiver Support

The demands of caregivers for someone living with dementia or Alzheimer’s can limit a person’s ability to take care of themselves. Family caregivers for these patients are at greater risk for anxiety, depression, and poorer quality of life than caregivers of people with other conditions. Caregivers must remember that self-care is not selfish! A few things a caregiver can do for themselves:

  • Schedule and have consistent breaks from caregiving responsibilities.
  • Let your doctor know you are a caregiver.
  • When someone offers help, let them help.
  • Consider joining an online support group.
  • Make time to be social and do some of the things you used to do before being a caregiver.
  • Make sure you are getting enough sleep.

Tips When Assisting a Patient

  • Approach the patient slowly and calmly.
  • Use a friendly tone of voice and facial expressions.
  • Make eye contact when you speak to the patient.
  • Face the patient when you speak to them.
  • Do not touch the patient from behind.
  • Speak slowly, clearly, and distinctly (demented patients do not understand complex speech).
  • Use one-step commands. For example, do not say, "It's time to eat, Mrs. Jones. Let's get up and go to the dining room. Where is your walker?" Instead, break the activity down:
    • "Mrs. Jones, stand up." (Wait for her to stand.)
    • "Mrs. Jones here is your walker." (Wait until she has the walker).
    • And then, "Mrs. Jones, it's time to eat." (Begin leading her where she eats.)
  • When assisting the patient with dressing:
    • Give the patient a limited choice of clothing if they can still choose their garments (limiting to two choices because too many can confuse them).
    • Use a consistent method of dressing every day. Dress the upper body first and then go to the lower body. If patients can still dress themselves, hand them the articles of clothing in the same order every day.
    • Use gestures and encouragement and show the patient what to do.
  • Bathing the patient:
    • Try to bathe the patient at the same time every day.
    • Use one-step commands and go slowly.
    • Talk to the patient reassuringly during the bath (explain what you are doing in short, simple terms).
    • Remember to provide as much privacy as can be given.
  • Feeding the patient:
    • Make sure the patient is in an upright, comfortable position and ready to eat.
    • Give the patient preferred foods when possible.
    • Give the patient one food item at a time if they are confused by too many on the plate/tray.
    • If the patient drinks too much and won't eat, serve the drink last.
    • Observe the patient to determine if they have difficulty swallowing (patients with advanced dementia will eventually forget how to eat).
  • The patient who wanders:
    • Allow the patient as much freedom as possible.
    • Try placing an extensive line, strip of tape, or Velcro on the door or floor to stop the patient from going past a certain point, or a giant STOP sign on the door may help.
    • Remember that the patient may be looking for something or someone.
    • Take the wandering patient to the toilet at least every two hours. Needing the bathroom is a significant cause of wandering.
    • Try to redirect the wandering patient by giving them something to do (fold towels, sort laundry, work puzzles, etc.).
  • The patient who is acting hostile (remember there is a reason for every behavior):
    • Is this a new behavior?
    • Is the patient medically ill (check for fever, impaction, pain, and shortness of breath)?
    • Does the patient have anything new in their environment (change in routine, noise, smells, etc.)?
    • Is the patient on any new medication?
  • The patient who rummages:
    • Try redirecting the patient by giving them something to do.
    • Give the patient a drawer or closet with things to rummage through.
    • Remember to ignore behavior that is not causing harm.
  • The environment:
    • Patients living with dementia need a quiet, orderly environment (they can be frightened or confused by change and loud noises).
    • For safety, maintain uncluttered rooms and hallways.
    • Avoid using scatter rugs, especially dark-colored rugs (older patients see bright colors well – avoid prints).

Remember: Patients living with dementia cannot help the way they behave. Their behavior changes as their brain cell connections and the cells themselves degenerate and die, eventually destroying memory and other important mental functions.

Online Resources for Caregivers

For support groups, visit the Alzheimer's Association or call the Alzheimer’s Alabama Chapter's Helpline at 1-800-272-3900.

Page last updated: February 27, 2024