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Resolve To Be a Better Caregiver for the New Year

By Debbie Mandel


I wondered if an article on Alzheimerís would have mass appeal for my readers during the holidays, particularly before New Yearís Eve. As you can tell, I decided that it might tie in well. Since we are approaching the New Year with its traditional message of letting go, it is fitting to examine the care-giving relationship which necessitates that both the patient and caregiver Ė let go of the past and keep their expectations realistic.

My mother died a year ago after having lived with Alzheimerís disease for eight years. It is in her honor that I write what she taught me about our mother-daughter relationship. When you take care of a parent, it is not like taking care of a child, even if the parentís behavior seems childlike.

My experience taught me that when you enter an Alzheimerís world, just play along. If that means adding a bit of fiction or incorporating some dramatic acting to your daily regimen, then feel free to do so in order to help preserve the patientís dignity. When you undermine, contradict or challenge an Alzheimerís delusion, you make the patient feel insecure and threatened. The greatest heartbreak is that you rob this person of his or her dignity.

People suffering from Alzheimerís are highly emotional and can switch from laughter and affection to anger and sadness in a moment. We must remember that an Alzheimerís patient is truly in the moment. Make the moment as loving as you can.

It is very important for us to keep in mind that we must preserve the dignity of the patient and not embarrass the person. Try to be positive and upbeat because your emotions are absorbed by the patient. And remember to hug and touch the person a lot! Body language becomes a powerful tool of communication.

When you play along with the patient, you ease up on him or her by suspending judgment and childlike scolding; best of all you ease up on yourself, the worn-out caregiver. You need to find a way to reduce stress levels. By creating a calmer, more serene environment both of you feel better, act better and interrelate better.

Here are some tips:
  • If the patient has lost something or claims someone stole a possession, donít argue. Instead say, ďLetís go look for it together.Ē
  • Keep your communication simple and to the point. Emphasize in clear language what the person needs to do. Avoid open ended questions with multiple choices.
  • If you are entertaining, keep it small, short and simple. Donít overwhelm the patient.
  • Play upbeat music and songs from the personís era. Music soothes the soul. Song memory lingers even in the later stages.
  • Be sensitive to the patient. Donít talk about him or her in the third person. Donít talk on the phone for long periods of time ignoring the patient. This is insulting. I know that you crave stimulating conversation, wait for the person to nap.
  • Touch and hug the patient a lot. Offer frequent words of praise. Even if the person did something wrong, turn it around, so you can say what a good job he or she did- find a positive spin. The patientís self-esteem is fragile.
  • Keep the person in your care active. Walking or cycling on a recumbent bicycle will help release tension and cheer up sad moments. The person will be stronger and healthier. Remember that exercise stimulates and oxygenates the brain.

Debbie Mandel, MA is the author of Turn On Your Inner Light: Fitness for Body, Mind and Soul, a stress-reduction specialist, motivational speaker, a personal trainer and mind/body lecturer. She is the host of the weekly Turn On Your Inner Light Show on WGBB AM1240 in New York City , produces a weekly wellness newsletter, and has been featured on radio/ TV and print media. To learn more visit: www.turnonyourinnerlight.com