Certain personality traits may affect the risk of pre-dementia. (Dreamstime/TNS)

Certain personality traits may affect the risk of pre-dementia. (Dreamstime/TNS) Credit: TNS/Dreamstime

When a loved one is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, many families make the decision to care for them at home. In fact, 83% of the help provided to older adults in the U.S. comes from family members, friends and other unpaid caregivers, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. In 2019, caregivers of people with Alzheimer’s or other dementias provided an estimated 18.6 billion hours of informal assistance helping with daily activities, which includes household chores, grooming/bathing, shopping, preparing meals, arranging doctors’ appointments, managing finances and much more. The role of a caregiver can be both emotionally and physically challenging. A big part of supporting your loved one is taking care of yourself, as well. These practical tips from local experts will help you achieve both.

Create a safe environment

"Safety is important for everyone, but the need for a comprehensive safety plan is particularly important for a person living with Alzheimer’s or other dementias," said Kate Anastasia, director of programs at the Alzheimer’s Association Long Island Chapter in Melville. "Improving safety can prevent injuries and help a person with Alzheimer’s disease feel more relaxed, less overwhelmed and maintain their independence longer." There may be certain areas of the home that are more at-risk than others. "Pay special attention to kitchens, garages, basements and outside areas," she said.

Stick to a routine

Our day can be thrown off when we are forced to deviate from our regular routine, and this is especially important for someone with Alzheimer’s disease, said Robin Marks, executive director/CEO of the Alzheimer’s Disease Resource Center in Bay Shore. "Structure adds a sense of security," she said. "Continue to do the activities you and your loved one have always done, but modifications may be needed to accomplish this." For example, someone who enjoys gardening may not be able to manage a full yard but can plant seeds or put flowers in a pot. "Music is another activity with great potential," she said. "It’s a language no one forgets, and everyone is a teenager when they hear music from their era."

Defuse agitation and stressful situations

It’s best not to argue with your loved one if they are confused, asking repetitive questions or saying statements that are not true, said Tori Cohen, executive director of the Long Island Alzheimer’s and Dementia Center in Westbury. "It’s important to respond with simple, soothing statements that de-escalate the situation," she said. "Let them know it’s OK and validate their beliefs before trying to change the subject." Try providing a positive distraction by engaging in an enjoyable activity or choosing a comfort item such as a snack, a baby doll or a photo album to look at. "If these don’t work, try a change of scenery. Go for a drive, take a walk or listen to music in a different room in your home."

Be wary about wandering

People with dementia will wander. "A person with Alzheimer’s may not remember his or her name or address, and can become disoriented, even in familiar places," said Anastasia. "Wandering among people with dementia is dangerous, but you can try to prevent it." Identify the most likely times of day that wandering may occur and plan activities at that time, she said. "This can reduce anxiety, agitation and restlessness."

Find pleasure in the simple things

Times may get difficult, so remember the good times and memories you’ve shared together, said Cohen. "Engage in some of their former favorite activities and music to help them feel comforted by familiarity. Watching old television shows, dancing to their favorite tunes and looking through old pictures are great ways to meet them in the past."

Take care of yourself

"You’re making sure your loved one eats healthy, exercises, rests and interacts," said Marks. "Do the same for yourself, even if it’s small intervals." Find something enjoyable to do every day. It’s also important to find support groups, whether in-person, online or by telephone. "These are effective ways to find fellowship and encouragement," she said. "It may involve relinquishing some control but try to share the care. Enlist family members, friends and/or hired professionals to help with your loved one."

WHERE TO FIND LOCAL SUPPORT

Alzheimer’s Association Long Island

Chapter 300 Broadhollow Road, Suite LL100, Melville

631-629-6950, alz.org/longisland

Alzheimer’s Disease Resource Center

45 Park Avenue, Bay Shore

631-580-5100, adrcinc.org

Long Island Alzheimer’s and Dementia Center

1025 Old Country Road, #115, Westbury

516-767-6856, lidementia.org

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