Caring for a Loved One with Dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease

by Lois Etienne on September 1, 2010

in Alzheimer's and Dementia,Caregiver Support

Many family caregivers presently care for a parent or spouse who is suffering from some form of dementia. In fact, the frequency of dementia increases with rising age from less than 2% for 65-69-year-olds, to 5% for 75-79 year-olds and to more than 20% for 85-89 year-olds.

Caring for a relative with Alzheimer’s disease is particularly challenging because the disease is progressive and, eventually, completely debilitating. The person receiving the help may not be able to appreciate or acknowledge it or may even be verbally or physically abusive. Caregivers often have a hard time dealing with the fact that their loved one eventually may not recognize them.

“Caregivers of senior relatives or spouses with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia are at great risk of suffering from depression, anxiety, frustration, stress and anger,” warns Richard Schulz, Ph.D., caregiver stress expert at the University of Pittsburgh. Research shows that caregivers of a family member with dementia face particularly stressful demands because of the length of period of care, the behavioral and cognitive problems associated with dementia, and the extreme impairment of patients with end-stage dementia.

“Caregivers of patients with dementia should be particularly vigilant about their ability to deal with the challenges they face and seek assistance early in their caregiving role, as the disease is just beginning,” advises Dr. Schulz. “It is also important to speak to the senior about his or her wishes before they unable to make important decisions.

In order to better care for a relative suffering from severe dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, the following tips are recommended:

  • Understand the disease. Read about the disease, its affects, etc., so you are prepared as it progresses. With this understanding also comes additional patience, as you realize that the person is not doing this on purpose or to make you angry. It is a medical condition.
  • Enter their world. Instead of trying to correct a person with Alzheimer’s disease, ask them simple questions about their statements, even if they seem strange or are about a person who is no longer living, etc. This will make you and your relative less frustrated.
  • Strike a balance. Encourage as much independence as possible. Help the person by prompting or cueing them to do things for themselves, when possible, but realize you’ll need to step in if your relative’s safety or well-being will be compromised in any way.
  • Get support. Enlist the help of family and friends to spend some time with your relative, if possible, to give you respite. Join a local support group for people who care for those with dementia/Alzheimer’s disease to hear their stories and know you aren’t alone.
  • Tap into resources. Find professionals in your area to assist with practical, yet emotional tasks, such as making senior care decisions, elder law issues/Power of Attorney, asset management or creating a will.
  • Decide on assistance. Family caregivers often find they are spending quantity time vs. quality time – doing the shopping, taking the relative to appointments, cleaning, vs. spending time with their relative. Enlist the help of a professional caregiver for the everyday tasks, so you can spend time with your loved one and appreciate them.
  • Environmental distractions, such as street noise, a loud television or radio, can lead to agitation or anxiety. It is important to make a positive and comfortable environment.
  • Use effective communication when speaking to someone with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. Be aware of your rate of speech, your pitch and tone.
  • Use positive body language. Greet the individual with relaxed facial expressions and shoulders. If you are tense the person with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease may pick up on it.

For more information or to get answers to your questions, please contact your local Home Instead Senior Care office.  We can be reached — anytime day or night – by calling Spokane509.835.5898North King/Snohomish Counties425.670.2292 or South King/Pierce Counties253.943.1603.  You can also email us at

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