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How can I help a loved one cope with Alzheimer's disease?

When accompanying your loved one to a doctor, bring current medications, notes on symptoms and other issues—and a list of questions.

Good communication can enable you to get the most out of your visit to a physician or other healthcare professional. Being open and asking questions help toward understanding, and proper diagnosis and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia.

As a caregiver, here are some ways you can help a loved one get through their day with Alzheimer's:

  • Use rubber tub mats, tub seats, grab bars, and nonslip bath mats when helping them bathe.
  • Avoid shoes with slippery soles, pants or dresses that are too long or full, and long or full sleeves that may catch on doorknobs or furniture.
  • Follow the person's old routines as much as possible.
  • Prepare everything in advance.
  • Be calm, gentle, and reassuring.
  • Eliminate distractions.
  • Encourage him or her to do as much as possible without hands-on help. Talk through each step.
  • Discourage long naps during the day.
  • Don't serve food or drink that is too hot. Remind the person to eat slowly and chew each bite thoroughly. If eating nonfood items becomes a problem, keep things like dog biscuits and flower bulbs out of sight.
  • Place locks near the bottom of doors leading outside. Lock all outside windows.
  • Keep a diary of when the person urinates and has bowel movements, and remind him or her to use the bathroom at these intervals. Restlessness or agitation may indicate bladder or rectal fullness.
  • Use incontinence aids such as disposable pads and briefs, condom catheters for men, and waterproof pads and mattress coverings to protect furniture.

While a doctor has probably prescribed several medications to help with the depression, sleeping problems and anxiety that often accompany Alzheimer's disease, there are other strategies you can use to help your loved one cope with these issues. For instance, any kind of exercise, be it walking, swimming or even tai chi, is fun, stimulating and can help improve sleep.

Additionally, most people with Alzheimer's disease, particularly in the earlier stages, prefer to do useful and purposeful activities rather than be entertained, but they need cueing and guidance to stay on task. So try involving them in some modified housework or volunteer work (folding laundry, dusting or stuffing envelopes).

Failure-free social events with other Alzheimer's disease families are also a great idea—picnics or cultural events where no one has to remember names and where there is a greater tolerance for unusual behavior. Also, music seems to be universally appealing—many people can remember lyrics or how to play instruments that they learned as children.

It's also very important that you register your loved one with the Alzheimer's Association's Safe Return program, a national program that helps locate lost and wandering people before they get hurt. Visit: www.alz.org.

Alzheimer's disease is progressive, and the help a loved one needs to cope will always be changing. It is important to remember that the person does not have control over the decline and that caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's requires patience. To help, you can do such things as maintaining a predictable schedule, providing reminders of things the person needs to do, watching for frustration or anxiety and assisting when needed.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.