National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month and National Caregiver Month, both occurring in November, serve as an opportunity for us to reflect on the 65.7 million unpaid family caregivers who are the backbone of long term care in this country. Family caregivers help a parent who can’t care for himself, a spouse struggling with a chronic illness, or a wounded worrier who needs both emotional and physical support.
Caregivers of family members with Alzheimer’s disease face unique challenges. Many describe watching the person they love slowly slip away, leaving sadness, frustration, anger, fear and helplessness in their wake. While there is not yet a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, there are caregiving strategies that help families focus on what is still there rather than what has been lost. By adapting these strategies, you may be better able to engage with your loved one and recognize that their essence is still intact.
- Play to their strengths: Incorporating your loved one’s hobbies into a shared activity can provide an opportunity to connect on a new level. Was your dad an avid artist? Try engaging over watercolor. Was your spouse a culinary genius? Incorporate them into daily meal preparation. While complex activities may be overwhelming, finding ways to honor your loved one’s interests in a simple, straightforward manner is a great way to come together. Keep in mind it’s the shared process, not the finished piece, that is valuable.
- Evoke meaningful rituals and family traditions: While short term memory may be impaired, family traditions from the long ago past may still bring comfort. Whether it is celebrating Thanksgiving together, reciting prayers during religious occasions, or singing Happy Birthday, the feelings these traditions evoke can be powerful and may help your loved one feel less isolated. Whatever your unique family tradition or ritual is, find ways to incorporate them into your day to day communication. It can be quite simple but the impact can be significant.
- Encourage musical expression: Even after most activities become too difficult and it is harder to engage your grandmother, music still has the power to enliven and transform someone with Alzheimer’s. What’s more, enjoying music together creates a fun shared experience. Play recordings of your dad’s favorite genre of music. Sing or hum together. You may even try wheelchair dancing by holding hands and swaying side to side. Music taps into a part of the brain that is still very much intact. The power of musical expression can have a surprising impact on people with Alzheimer’s disease.
All of these suggestions rely on adding an oft forgotten agenda item to our caregiving responsibilities: create time to just be with your loved one. Sometimes this feels like too much to ask given the abundance of tasks you must accomplish. But carving out time to allow yourself to just be present can leave you feeling connected rather than depleted. Our own emotional states can have a significant impact on our loved ones who suffer from dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Finding ways to feel relaxed, at ease and even joyful as a caregiver, and will help you accept the reality of the disease without losing sight of the person who is still there. The journey is not easy, which is why our Care Advisors are available to support you through the challenges and help you find solutions.
Call 855-772-2730. We look forward to hearing from you.
For more ways to connect with a loved one with Alzheimer’s, see Care.com’s Alzheimer’s Q&A.