For a person suffering with Alzheimer’s disease, structure is a vital part of everyday life. From the rising in the morning to the laying down at night our loved ones face challenges with each step. A child learning new things every day is eager to begin, but an elderly person who is un-learning things with which they previously had no problems may not be so motivated to do things on their own. How can we provide the assistance they need while still letting them feel the satisfaction of independence that they want?
First and foremost, keep it simple. Instead of directing your loved one to the bathroom to brush their teeth on their own, why not accompany them? “Let’s brush our teeth. Here’s your toothbrush, let me give you some toothpaste.” It may be easier to watch you doing the same thing and mimic your behavior. Don’t forget to schedule regular dental check-ups, especially if you can’t be there all of the time to be sure they are caring for their oral hygiene.
Maintain grooming routines. If your loved one is accustomed to regular trips to the barber or beauty salon continue this activity. Using safer grooming tools at home such as cardboard nail files and electric razors will minimize the risk of injury.
When it comes to getting dressed it will be helpful to narrow down the options. Keep a limited supply of clothing in the closet and lay garments out in the order they should be put on. Pull-over shirts can be trouble so go for button ups or even Velcro when possible. Don’t worry about mismatched outfits or repeats, just remember to praise their efforts.
When it comes to mealtime avoid unnecessary distractions such as a cluttered table, a TV or radio on. Avoid a patterned tablecloth or dishes as changes in visual and spatial abilities can make it hard to distinguish from the food. A plate full of decisions can be overwhelming so serving one or two foods at a time will lessen stress. Be flexible. If a food they once loved no longer seems appealing give them something else. If they can’t remember having breakfast and ask for it again it may be easier to serve it in “courses;” orange juice, followed by toast, followed by eggs, for example.
Planning activities can give your loved one a sense of purpose and self-esteem. When choosing activities, keep in mind his or her interests and limitations. Consider things that relate to their past experiences or current daily life. You may want to help get the activity started but be sure to encourage self-expression. Be realistic, relaxed and patient.
You may find it useful to keep a log of what activities you’ve tried, the time of day, environment and your loved one’s response. Make adjustments as needed, don’t wait for your loved one to become comfortable with the decisions you make. Your advice on making daily activities easier for those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease is welcome at our caregiver forum!