Alzheimer’s is a devastating disease for the sufferer as well as their family members. According to recent statistics, around five million Americans live with this form of dementia. It has also been listed among the top ten leading causes of death in the country. What is worse, is that doctors and scientists have yet to find out what causes the disease and how to fully cure it.
For now, sufferers can mainly learn how to cope and live with their illness. However, they do not have to do it alone. They need the financial and emotional support of their families to get through this rough patch in their lives.
Should you choose to care for your loved one with Alzheimer’s in your own home, make sure that you are financially and physically capable of doing so first. This guide is meant to help you prepare for just that.
What is Alzheimer's?
Alzheimer’s disease is a neurological disorder which is characterized by the eventual and progressive death of brain cells leading to a severe decline in the sufferer’s memory and other abilities. The disease is usually associated with aging, but it is not necessarily a regular part of it as proven by cases of early onset Alzheimer’s usually found in the over-30 population.
Symptoms and Treatment
Memory loss is one of the most recognized symptoms of the disease. However, doctors believe that there are better ways to recognize the onset of the disease before it advances into the territory of memory loss. Watch out for the following symptoms:
- Sudden increased difficulty in performing simple tasks
- Frequent feelings of confusion
- Poor judgment
- Changes in either mood or personality
If you have noticed these changes in your loved one, encourage them to schedule a checkup with a doctor.
While there is no known cure for the disease yet, there are still plenty of treatment options you can choose from to maintain a comfortable quality of life for your family member. These include treatment of related illnesses such as depression, aggressive behavior, hearing loss or vision loss. There is also medication that counters enzymes that cause brain deterioration for cases of mild or moderate Alzheimer’s.
- Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center: What is Alzheimer’s disease?
- John Hopkins Medicine: Alzheimer's disease
- Harvard Health Publishing: Looking for early signs of Alzheimer’s
- Keck School of Medicine of USC: Detecting Alzheimer’s disease before symptoms emerge
- Northwestern University School of Medicine: Diagnosis and treatment
Adapting your home for the specific needs and disabilities of a family member suffering from Alzheimer’s will not only make daily life more comfortable for them, but it would also make your job as a caregiver easier.
Outside: If you have a sizeable backyard, consider improving it with a mini garden where your loved one can sit or pass the time caring for plants. Just make sure to remove all dangerous tools, toxic plants, and garbage from it. Do not forget to get a lock your backyard gate to avoid your loved one wandering away.
Bedrooms: Make sure to install a bedside lamp and some night lights in the room to help them see their way even when the main lights are turned off. Opt for a bed with a low frame to minimize harm in case they fall off while sleeping.
Bathroom: Install non-slip mats to avoid slipping accidents which may worsen their physical health. Buying a shower seat and placing handlebars will further make the bathroom safe for them to use. Remind other family members to return every item (towels, body wash bottles, toilet paper, etc.) to the same place after every use so as not to confuse the sufferer.
Kitchen and Dining Area: Consider removing the door cabinets or covers from your cupboards to make cooking easier. You should also get rid of countertop clutter as much as possible to avoid accidents, but make sure to leave out the tools they will most likely use where they can see them.
Living Room: Aside from the bedroom, this is where your loved one would most likely spend their time. Ensure that the room is well-lit with wall-mounted lighting for safety and is filled with plenty of comfortable seating for them. You can also decorate it with photos of them and your family as a reminder to trigger their memory.
Make sure that all areas of the house are free of floor clutter to avoid tripping accidents.
Avoid using upholstery, carpet, or table covers with distracting and complicated patterns.
Hang a reminder board where you can list down activities your loved one needs to do within the day.
Keep the house at a comfortable temperature at all times.
- UNC School of Medicine: Creating an Alzheimer’s-friendly home for your loved one
- BrightFocus Foundation: Making your home dementia friendly
- AARP: Creating a safe place for your loved one with dementia
- UC Berkeley School of Public Health: How to provide Alzheimer's care at home
Getting Additional Help
Not every one of us can afford to quit our jobs to care for a loved one. When things get worse, do not hesitate to find in-home help to relieve you of some responsibilities.
Get recommendations from other families to ensure that the person you are hiring can be trusted to handle the job at hand. You can also directly contact a home care company within your community to hire someone through them.
Choosing a Provider
Screening should be an important part of your hiring process. Do not hesitate to interview each applicant yourself if you feel the need to. If hiring through an agency, be clear on the terms of payment and insurance that the agency covers to avoid confusion.
Although cheaper than nursing homes, spending on in-home help may still be a serious financial strain for some families. Do not take on the load alone. Do not hesitate to ask your siblings or other family members for assistance if needed. You can also inquire about your loved one's retirement plan, benefits, or health insurance plan to see if you can use them for their medical needs.
- Family Caregiver Alliance: Hiring in-home help
- National Public Radio: Discovering the true cost of at-home caregiving
Experience is the best teacher, and there is a lot to learn from other people who are caring for someone with Alzheimer’s too. The Alzheimer’s Association is a good place to start: 10 ways to help a family living with Alzheimer's. The University of California San Francisco (UCSF) Health also offers advice for caregivers: Coping strategies for Alzheimer's disease caregivers. Last, but not least, Stanford Health Care explains the treatment options available for your family member: Treatment options for Alzheimer's disease.