Living and Working With Victims of Alzheimer's
Many of us, as we age, will fall victim to Alzheimer's. In my experience working in some capacity or another in the Health Profession, I have come in contact with many precious people who have this sad disease. For several years I worked in an Assisted Living Facility as the Activities Director. This facility housed both Alzheimer's and what I call, pre-Alzheimer's residents. By pre-Alzheimer's I mean residents who were able to care for themselves and not have to be in a lock-down unit. Most of the residents in the open units did not display any signs of Alzheimer's, but some did. The sad part for family, friends and workers is to watch the progression of the condition. The hard part is to accept the fact that the disease has progressed to the point of having to move the client/family member/friend into the Alzheimer's unit. The transition is hard for all concerned. The client may not perceive what the move is all about, but the family surely does. It is the family and friends who take the toll on taking this big step. We need to give thanks that there are in existence these great facilities with such skilled care to take care of our loved ones.
What I really want to talk about now is working and/or living with an Alzheimer's victim. It is very important that they are able to maintain their dignity as much as possible. They have to still feel needed and productive. As long as they are aware of their condition, they should remain very active and be involved in activities of daily living. If the loved one is in your home, include them in daily happenings. Invite him/her to help with chores that they can physically handle. It is important to remember that once, not that very long ago, they were in charge of their own home. They were responsible for taking care of their home in all aspects. Now we need to see the importance of allowing them to help so they may continue to possess some sense of self worth and dignity. A simple task such as folding clothes will allow them to feel useful. You are not abusing them by getting them to help, you are actually doing them a favor. Anytime your loved one uses his/her thinking powers to assemble, arrange or sort things, he/she can be putting off or delaying the progression of the condition.
My experiences while working in assisted living taught me much. I can remember taking a container of embroidery threads and pretending to acidentally spill them on the table. I then asked the residents in the unit to please help me by sorting them again by color. They gladly did this thinking they were helping me,,,,,,when I was actually helping them. You can do this with buttons, beads and anything colorful. A daily newspaper was always available in the living room area. Those who were still able to pick one up and read it were able to keep up with local and worldly happenings, For those who could not remember the concept of picking up a paper to read it, they got it read to them. An important afternoon activity was sitting in a group having the paper read to them. Many discussed the articles. Can you see how vital it is to do this activity? They feel they are still a part of everything that is going on around them. They may even surprise their family members with bits of knowledge about the news they are aware of.
Games of all kinds are a good way to get them to use thinking and concentration. Cards are fun. As long as your loved one is able to work crossword puzzles or worir search puzzles, encourage it. Have these puzzle books and a pencil handy at all times. Get them to use their brain. Exercise it. As stated before, this can delay the progression. Sadly, there is no cure, but there are activities and some medication which can help them and you deal with the condition. The medications should help the resident to cope and can also delay progression.
Now let's talk about exercise. We exercised our brain now let's exercise the rest of our body. Again, allow the loved one to help around the house if they are able to. Give them chores that won't challenge them too much. We want to avoid getting them frustrated with something they are not familiar with or something they are physically or mentally unable to handle. Go for walks. Point out the beautiful things mother nature has to offer. Trigger their memory about past outdoor experiences. Men enjoy talking about fishing trips, gardening, hunting trips or past vacations. Women will remember planting flowers, going on picnics, fun with grandchildren or clubs she belonged to. Joggle your memory. Begin a discussion on something you remember about them and think they may enjoy talking about. If sports of some sort was a part of their past, help them to play again or continue to play. Senior olympics is something available to them. Encourage participation and watch their pride when they win that medal.
Interaction with children is always a pleasure. They love children. Babies are especially fascinating to them. Their memories kick in quickly when around the young ones. Anytime their memories are stirred up, that is a good thing. The short-term memory is limited, but the long term memory can be quite sharp, They will remember things that happened 50 years ago before they remember yesterday.
Be patient. This is very important. At some point in the progression he/she will say something that may be out of context. You must never argue with them about it. For example: they may say "my mother is coming for a visit tomorrow". You know that is not true. Don't argue. Instead just say "that will be so nice". Understand that this is a short term thing. This will most likely be forgotten in the next few minutes. A realistic dream may have triggered this. Should this be mentioned again, shorten your reaction by saying "ok" or something to that effect. The main thing to remember is do not go back and forth with them trying to explain they are wrong. This does more damage than the acceptance of their statement.
If you are fortunate enough to have an Alzheimer's Association in your locality, please contact them. They will be more than happy to assist and very helpful with supplying the resources you need. They will be a big shoulder for you to lean on. If this is not availble near you, search the internet for assistance. Don't be afraid to ask questions. Each person's situation is unique and deserves answers. There is help to be had.