Parent diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease: how to help
©kanashkin / Adobe Stock
Parent diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease: how to help
Having a parent diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease feels like being hit in the chest with a sledgehammer. At the same time, having your brain replaced by a wad of cotton wool and your knees with jelly.
When my mom first started forgetting things, confusing names, and dates and generally seeming out of sorts, we didn’t overthink it. She was getting older, that was all.
But then she got lost on her way home from the supermarket (up the street, about a two and a half minute walk), and we realized things were not as innocent.
Five tips on how to help a parent diagnosed with Alzheimer’s
Fast forward to 14 months later, and here we are – still collectively feeling like we’ve been through a war and forced to quietly sit in the waiting room of a doctor’s office with no food, drink, or air.
If you have a parent diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and have recently been faced with this awful diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, here is my take on how to help a parent diagnosed with Alzheimer’s go through it all, and not lose your marbles in the process:
#1 – Never, ever, lose your temper
About 99.9% of the time, you will instinctively and naturally feel incredibly frustrated.
The entire situation will force you to question man’s purpose on earth and the point of suffering. You will lose sleep, pounds, mental energy, and loose change for months on end, without ever coming to terms with what is happening to your parent or loved one.
The simple truth is that you can’t do anything about this new reality you are forced to live in. And the only thing you can hope to do is accept it that your parent was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Easy said than done, but try and focus on the positive, and choose how you will react in certain moments.
What will not do any good is losing your temper at the only person within your reach: the parent diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
Yes, people with Alzheimer’s disease can be very foggy. They may get on your nerves when they ask the same question seventeen times, but don’t ever vent your frustration out on them. Not because it will pain them, but because it will tear you to pieces.
Alzheimer’s is still a riddle: we don’t know what causes it, how to prevent it, and there is no treatment for it. There is nothing your parents could have done differently to avoid landing in this situation.
Find an alternative way to vent, but stay calm and collected with them. Take a deep breath and focus on what they need and how they feel.
#2 – Educate yourself as much as you can
While we still don’t know much about Alzheimer’s disease, progress is being made every day. There are more practical resources, too, as people are taking to the internet to document what they’re doing to help their own loved ones cope better.
You can start by getting the most common questions about Alzheimer’s answered, and then move to more specific research. That includes treatment options, coping mechanisms, and anything you can think of that might make a difference in the life of your parent diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
Don’t be discouraged if a method that has worked well for someone else doesn’t work for you. Everyone’s brains and minds are different, and it’s okay if they don’t react to the same stimuli in the same way. Keep trying, and you’ll find another method that works.
#3 – Simplify things
Cutting down on the noise and superfluous will help your parent diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease feel and cope better.
Don’t ask or say more than one thing at a time, and let them focus on one thing and one thing only: you, the TV, someone else, etc.
Try to establish a daily routine they feel comfortable with, so they know what’s coming: mealtimes, bath times, walks, etc. If you need to change the routine, expect some resistance and heightened emotions, as this is a perfectly normal reaction to expect from your parent diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
#4 – Ensure emotional and physical safety
Do your very best to ensure your parent is safe at all times, even when you may not be around.
Remove from the house anything that can harm, including medicines and even sharp objects if you need to.
Make sure all the alarms are working properly and alert the neighbors that your parent is suffering from the disease, so they know what to expect.
Keep in mind that people with Alzheimer’s typically experience fear when they’re unsure where and with whom they are. When your parent gets upset or emotional, remain patient, show them kindness, and try to reassure them, they are perfectly safe.
Focus on their emotions rather than what they are saying. Often, you can read a facial expression better than a verbal expression of distress.
#5 – To help you parent: care for yourself
Coping with Alzheimer’s is often more acutely difficult and more acutely felt by a caregiver than the patient. Nevertheless, don’t ever forget that it must be incredibly scary to suffer from this disease. And while you may be frightened and upset as well, refocus all of your energy on helping your loved one, instead of on the what-ifs and could-bes.
And don’t forget, one of the most important things you can do to help a parent diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease is it to also look after yourself.
Sarah Kaminski earned her bachelor’s degree in Health Sciences. Due to her parent’s declining health, she decided to become their full-time caregiver. Now, she takes care of her loved ones and writes about the things she learned along the way.