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Care for Alzheimer's patients

One of the hardest things
you'll be asked to go through in life is coping with the deteriorating health
of a loved one. Alzheimer’s disease is a classic example. Brain deterioration
robs victims of big chunks of their memory, often leaving them confused and
disoriented.

David Troxel, a senior care
advocate and author, has made improving Alzheimer’s care his life’s passion. He
has written several books for caregivers. His recent book, coauthored by
Virginia Bell, is called A Dignified Life: The Best Friends Approach To
Alzheimer’s Care.

It outlines a relatively new
approach that can be practiced by caregivers. The goal is to treat Alzheimer’s
sufferers in a more positive way – the way good friends care for each other,
rather than ignoring them or treating them like a child.

He says, “Best friends know
each other’s personality and history. They do things together, they communicate
openly. They build self-esteem, they laugh together often, and they think of
each other as equals. For an Alzheimer’s caregiver, it means you become less
task-oriented and more person-centered.”

Some caregivers have what
Troxel calls “the knack” for working with Alzheimer’s sufferers. They interact
with ease by employing clever strategies. “Not everyone has it. And if that is
the case, maybe you shouldn’t be a primary caregiver,” he says.

He offers these examples of
how you can use the knack for interacting with an Alzheimer’s patient at a
senior care facility, or at home.

• The Alzheimer’s patient
says, “That President Eisenhower is sure doing a good job.” You could ridicule
and say, “He’s not the president.” Or if you have the knack, you say, “Yes, he
is a good man!” What harm have you done?

• The patient says, “You’re
late.” Your instinctual reaction is to say, “No, I’m right on time.” But if you
have the knack, you say, “Yes, Mom, I’m sorry I’m late.” Sometimes, you let
them be right and compliment them. “It elevates them,” Troxel says.

•The patient says, “Where’s
my mom?” You want to say, “Your mom has been gone for 30 years.” But if you
have the knack, you say, “Tell me something about your mom.”

Take Note Of Personal
Stories

Troxel suggests that
Alzheimer’s caregivers go out of their way to know things about the people in
their care. The staff at a senior care facility might develop bullet cards that
say something like “10 fun things to know about Bob.” The whole staff could
have access to them and use them to interact in a best-friends approach.

“Find out what their
favorite color is. It’s one of my favorite things to know about someone,”
Troxel says.

“People with Alzheimer’s are
not going to be cured, at least not with the knowledge that we have today,”
Troxel says. “But the field of knowledge on dementia issues doubles every 18
months. We are making progress. In the meantime, loving, creative,
activity-rich care is the best approach to treating people with this disease.”

Here is Troxel’s checklist
of what a good care team member does:

1. Gives purposeful chores.
People of this generation pride themselves on work.

2. Provides creative
activities. Make them dig deep into their memory banks.

3. Makes conversation.
Unfortunately, Alzheimer’s attacks the language centers of the brain. So,
exercise it.

4. Gives learning and growth
opportunities. History is a favorite topic.

5. Laughs. Alzheimer’s
patients respond to the mood in the room or to the staff of the care facility.

6. Knows the patient's life
story. Talk to the person about it.

7. Encourages exercising. It
may slow the progression of Alzheimer’s.

8. Introduces animals. It’s
good therapy.

9. Gets outside when
possible.

10. Exposes patients to music. It lives in a different part of the brain
than speech. The old songs never leave. Alzheimer’s patients like some new
music, too. 

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