We've been looking at Alzheimer's - the process and some helpful hints on how to take of yourself as the caregiver. And once again, I want to point out the Alzheimer's Association Web site (www.alz.org) as a great source of information. Much of what we've been talking about has come from that site. I recently ordered and received a free booklet from the site entitled "Coach Broyles' Playbook for Alzheimer's Caregivers." It comes with a small pocket reference called "Tips and Strategies." Frank Broyles is the athletic director for the University of Arkansas Razorbacks, and wrote this from direct experience. It's well worth taking a look at this booklet.
This time out, we're going to take a look at some practical tips on how to respond to some behaviors which are typical of Alzheimer's. The information, again, is available for free at Alzheimer's Association Web site so we won't repeat page by page, line by line. We will, however, hit some of the main points. Hopefully, this will be not only information, but also assistance.
The behaviors addressed are aggression, anxiety, agitation, confusion, repetitive behaviors and suspicion. Let's start by reminding ourselves that Alzheimer's is a disease, not a mental illness or stage of life. And though most of us can probably look at the above behavior and say, "Yep, I've been there," these behaviors are intensified and sometimes constant during the process.
Aggression: One of the foremost things to keep in mind is to ask yourself, "What happened right before the behavior?" There may any number of situations that may create an atmosphere where folks respond in an aggressive manner. Was there an increase in activity? A lot of people talking? Noise? Was it a build-up from earlier anxiety? Some helpful hints: Try to remain positive and soothing. Speak slowly and softly. Limit distractions and look for an activity such as listening to familiar music or shifting focus on something else.
Anxiety and Agitation: Again, what may be causing this in the environment? Move to another area. Take a walk or get involved in an activity. Assurance that you're there and caring goes a long way, also.
Confusion: Our natural response is to go into lengthy descriptions and explanations to help orient people who are confused. We can only imagine what it must feel like to be referred to as a friend when you've been the spouse for the last 40 years. Guard your feelings and stay calm. Simple explanations or looking at old familiar photos may also help. Offer information in a non-threatening manner such as, "I think he's your cousin Dewey."
Repetition: Someone in this process may repeat a phrase or question over and over; or it may be a physical activity like picking up an item and setting it down. One simple (though admittedly frustrating) approach is to answer the question each time it's asked until a distraction can be found, or try to incorporate the behavior into an activity you can do together. For example, if the person is picking up a photo over and over again, take the opportunity to look through some photos together. Again, reassurance in a calm and soothing manner also helps.
Suspicion: Imagine you're confused, unsure of your surroundings and unable to interpret your environment consistently. Sounds like a scary place, doesn't it? Now imagine living there. Suspicion would not be a surprising reaction. But even if it involves accusations, try not to take offense. Offer to help with whatever the problem is. Let them know you care and you are here for them. Again, offer simple answers. Be calm and reassuring. Switch the focus to something else. If a person loses items, try to have duplicates on hand.
Does this answer everything? No, probably not even close. But hopefully this gives a general idea on how to respond to at least some of the behaviors you might encounter.
Learning, like life, is a process.