When individuals live with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, their relationships will change. As a progressive disease, the symptoms will worsen over time but the rate in which it does can vary from person to person.
Although the behaviors and challenges can overlap, there are three general stages. The following can provide an outline for guidance:
The individual in the early stages may be functioning independently, continue to work and still drive. But he or she may begin forgetting words, the location of everyday objects and experience other memory lapses.
This is usually the longest of the stages. Individuals’ symptoms will become more pronounced and there can be more difficulty in expressing feelings or performing routine tasks. They may begin to withdraw and demonstrate personality changes.
The symptoms become severe and the individual will find it more difficult to carry on a conversation or to control movement. Behavioral and personality changes will continue and 24/7 attention and care will eventually be needed.
Source: Alzheimer’s Association
But regardless of the stage, your loved one may be in, interacting and connecting with others is always important. Knowing that people care is critical to the quality of life.
If you’re unsure of how best to compassionately support your family member, the following recommendations may help:
Although the individual may begin wanting to spend more time alone or avoiding social situations due to increased anxiety, it’s essential that they continue to have contact and conversations with others.
The benefits include:
Tip: Planning ahead before your visit and thinking about activities you could share is a great way to take the pressure off of making conversation, if that is becoming more difficult.
Talk to the primary caregiver for help to tailor your efforts toward your loved one’s interests and abilities.
Plan ahead but keep in mind that you’ll always need to be flexible when interacting with someone who is living with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
Become familiar with their likes and dislikes but remember that their preferences and abilities may change as the disease progresses. The goal, however, is not completing an activity but spending time together and showing that you care.
Tip: When planning a visit, try to choose the time of day that is typically best for them. Be prepared but also pay attention. If they begin showing signs of restlessness or frustration, it might be better to try again another day.
Always begin with their preferences or past interests when planning for conversations or activities to share.
Ask your loved one what they would like to do or check-in with the primary caregiver for the type of activities that are enjoyed most. It might be playing a game, sitting quietly listening to music or taking a walk outside and appreciating the fresh air and sunshine.
Tip: If they no longer seem to show as much interest as they once did in a subject, let it go. It may be that they can no longer keep up their end of the conversation and are embarrassed at what they don’t remember. Don’t put them on the spot. Just change the topic.
If your loved one no longer remembers that they have lost their spouse, it’s often kinder not to continually remind them. Re-telling them each time you visit that their partner is gone can cause them to live through the shock of the news and suffer the loss again and again.
Known as compassionate conversations or therapeutic fibbing, this strategy allows family and friends to meet those living with Alzheimer’s disease where they are – which may also decrease their agitation and anxiety.
Tip: Consider the value in relaying devastating news over and over to those who may no longer be able to retain or process the information. If you’re uncomfortable not being completely honest, try changing the subject or redirecting their attention.
A person living with Alzheimer’s disease may also now be living in an unfamiliar world. It can be a struggle that you can’t quite imagine. Take special effort to make them feel comfortable when you are there and lessen any anxiety when possible.
Showing up is a bigger act than you might realize. Even family members may be tempted to avoid their loved one for fear of saying or doing the wrong thing. But your presence conveys the significant meaning that the person still matters to you.
Tip: What not to do?
If your family is considering memory care, we hope you will visit one of our Ingleside communities. We believe you’ll find we support all of our residents to live their best lives and encourage them to take advantage of all the benefits we offer, including:
For information on Ingleside’s Westminster at Lake Ridge senior living community located in Lake Ridge, Virginia, please call (703) 420-7105 with questions or to schedule a personalized tour today.
For information on Ingleside at King Farm senior living community located in Rockville, Maryland, please call (240) 414-8557 with questions or to schedule a personalized tour today.
For information on Ingleside at Rock Creek senior living community located in Washington, DC, please call (202) 846-2651with questions or to schedule a personalized tour today.