Living Well With Alzheimer’s Disease: Good Self-Care Makes a Difference

People can survive for years or even decades with Alzheimer’s dementia — and there are steps they can take to make the most of that time.

With the assistance of caregivers when necessary, they can find comfort and purpose in the everyday and live on their own terms for as long as possible.

Routines Can Make Daily Life Better

If you have Alzheimer’s-related memory loss, daily life can be full of frustrations and hazards.

Routine can be a lifeline. Consider these strategies:

  • Always keep keys, cellphones, and other essentials in the same place at home.
  • Ask if your doctor can simplify your medication regimen to once-daily dosing.
  • Arrange for automatic payment of bills and automatic deposit of checks.
  • Get in the habit of carrying a cellphone with location capability, so you can call for help in case you get lost, and so people can find you.
  • Try to schedule regular appointments on the same day at the same time.
  • Use a calendar or whiteboard at home for your daily schedule, checking off activities or tasks as you complete them. (1)

Accident-Proofing the House

Confusion, issues with depth perception, and other symptoms of Alzheimer’s can lead to injuries and falls. A few things you or your caregiver can do to make your living space safer include the following:

  • Remove unnecessary furniture so you can move more freely.
  • Eliminate clutter, such as piles of magazines and newspapers.
  • Install a sturdy handrail on staircases.
  • Install carpet on stairs or mark the edges of each step with bright tape.
  • Remove small throw rugs.
  • Make sure electrical cords are tucked out of the way.
  • Clean up spills right away. (2)

How to Be Your Own Best Caregiver

If you have Alzheimer’s you can be your own best caregiver during the earlier stages of the disease. There are steps you can take to protect your health, foster feelings of control and self-worth, and find meaningful ways to engage with others.

  • Care for your physical health. Exercise (check with a doctor first); eat a healthy diet; and take part in mentally stimulating activities, such as classes or hobbies.
  • Care for your emotional and psychological health. Allow yourself to experience a range of emotions without labeling any of them good or bad; join a support group; maintain close relationships with people you can confide in; and establish a social network of people with a similar diagnosis, either in person or online.
  • Care for your spiritual health. Some people gravitate to religion, others to nature; some prefer solitary moments and calming activities like yoga, while others find meaning through connecting with family and friends. (3)

Minimize the Stress in Your Life

Stress can be an inevitable part of life with Alzheimer’s. Taking steps to avoid it, reduce it, or prevent it from escalating can make every day better.

  • Know what causes stress for you, and remove yourself from those situations, or minimize triggers.
  • Establish boundaries and make sure others know where you draw the line.
  • Talk to someone you trust who can let you express your feelings openly.
  • Change your environment if you’re feeling stressed. If you’re in a loud, chaotic, or otherwise overwhelming setting, find a quiet place where you can calm down and refocus.
  • Take breaks or a long breather if a task seems too difficult.
  • Incorporate relaxing activities into your life, like listening to music, gardening, or keeping a journal. (4)

Shifting Goals and Strategies

By accepting changes in your abilities and figuring out how to adjust your coping tactics accordingly, you may experience a greater feeling of control.

  • Set realistic goals and focus on what you can accomplish, asking for help if necessary.
  • Create a daily schedule to reduce the stress of planning and make it easier to meet your goals.
  • Approach tasks one at a time; if you get stuck, come back to it later.
  • If one strategy doesn’t work, try a different one. (5)

Communication Tips for Caregivers

Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia can be uniquely challenging for caregivers, as the person they’re caring for becomes more and more dependent on others yet increasingly unable to express their wants and needs.

The frustration can worsen behavioral symptoms, like depression, anxiety, agitation, or aggression.

More on Caregiving

8 Things People With Dementia Want Their Caregivers to Know

For family members, witnessing and trying to cope with a loved one’s decline can take an enormous toll. Compared with caregivers of people without dementia, twice as many caregivers of those with dementia report substantial emotional, financial, and physical difficulties. (6)

The Family Caregiver Alliance and the Alzheimer’s Association are two great organizations offering tools, resources, and support. Their websites provide tips on how to communicate most effectively with someone in the later stages of dementia:

  • Keep the mood positive. Convey feelings of affection with facial expressions, tone of voice, and touch.
  • Before speaking, get the person’s attention. Try to eliminate distractions like TV, then address the person by name, identify yourself by name, and use nonverbal cues and touch to maintain his or her focus.
  • Keep your message clear. Speak slowly and reassuringly, but don’t condescend or talk down to the person. If they don’t understand what you’re saying, repeat the statement or question with the same wording. If the person still doesn’t comprehend, wait a short while and rephrase.
  • Make questions easy to answer. Ask one at a time, aiming for “yes” or “no” responses. Avoid asking open-ended questions or giving too many choices. Visual prompts can help.
  • Give the person ample time to reply to a question. Suggest words if the person seems unable to come up with them. Look for nonverbal clues and body language that indicate what the person is trying to say or that reveal unspoken feelings; one tactic is asking them to point or gesture.
  • Break down activities into their individual steps to help the person accomplish them one at a time.
  • If the person becomes agitated or upset, acknowledge those feelings, then change the topic or suggest a distraction like going for a walk.
  • Instead of arguing, aim to be affectionate and reassuring even when the person insists that an inaccurate statement is true or vice versa.
  • When dementia causes short-term memory loss, focus conversations on events from the distant past.
  • Keep a sense of humor, and find things that you and the person you care for can both laugh about. (7) Remember: The most important thing is being present.

Consider the feelings behind words or sounds. Sometimes the emotions being expressed are more important than what’s being said.

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