As we go through life, we experience changes. While some changes are marvelous, other changes are painful; whatever it’s countenance, change is inevitable, and because this is true, we all need coping strategies to deal with change.
If you have ever raised children, you will remember having to make changes in your home or your lifestyle to meet the changes in your children as they grew. Once the baby began to crawl, everything had to come up off the floor. Once the teenager began to drive, car rules and seating arrangements needed to be modified. The same holds true as we grow older and our ability to do the things we once did, or to live the way we once did, changes.
These age-related changes can be frightening and even dangerous in some instances. But, with proper knowledge and planning, they can be handled in stride, and you can achieve the best results because of your attention to the issues you are facing.
Let’s consider dementia first. Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias impact a significant number of older adults in our society today. With no cure on the horizon, Family Caregivers need to be knowledgeable of these diseases and their warning signs, as well as coping strategies for successful outcomes.
People with Alzheimer’s disease exhibit forgetfulness, anxiety, wandering, and personality changes. Eventually, as the disease progresses, they may not be able to feed themselves or manage essential physical functions. These symptoms may be hidden at first through the use of avoidance or humor, but as time passes the confusion, anger, and frustration with their loss of memory becomes apparent.
The Family Caregiver who works with someone who has dementia needs to understand strategies for coping with the challenging behaviors these illnesses present because early intervention is crucial to keeping a potentially dangerous situation from developing. The first step is to see the problem coming. The second is to know how to achieve a quick intervention to avoid the crisis. The third is to take swift action to bring about a successful conclusion to the event.
I don’t mean to frighten you, but the reality is, you only have about thirty seconds to engage your loved one, implement your strategy, and successfully achieve your desired outcome.
Sound complicated? Not really, if you are equipped and know what you are doing. And, as the Family Caregiver, you are uniquely equipped with an arsenal of intimate details that can assist you with implementing your strategy.
Here are four suggestions for how to avoid a volatile situation with someone who has Alzheimer’s disease:
- Offer choices to reduce stress and the potential for upsetting your dad. Having options gives him a sense of control in the midst of his out-of-control illness. Keep these simple; something like, “Would you like to wear the red sweater, or the blue jacket today?” assumes that he will wear one of them. And if instead, he chooses the green sweatshirt, you’ve still gained the victory.
- Try to redirect the person from their objective using something you know they like doing. For example, if your dad worries that the neighbors are going to steal his car (and you know this is not the case) but you know your dad likes watching old war movies suggest that you find one to watch together on TV. Reassure him that you will make sure the car is safely locked up, then move him to the other room to watch TV.
- Apologize if he accuses you of something you did not do. Don’t try to convince him that you didn’t do what he is accusing you of, simply apologize and offer to help resolve the issue. If he accuses you of having stolen his wallet, for example, tell him you can look together to find his wallet, or suggest that it is lunch time and you will help him search later for his wallet.
- As a final resort, remove your loved one from the room, or the object on which s/he is focused. Sometimes a simple change of venue will win the day.
Lastly, always remember that what works this time may not work the next, so try three different techniques to have your best success. Choose your fight carefully when you are dealing with Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia. Don’t argue or correct your loved one if they claim something to be that has never been, or if they tell you they never liked a particular food. You should only intervene if the activity they are focused on could injure them or someone else in some way. “Lose” the car keys if he insists that he needs to drive to work. Modify the door knobs to exterior doors, or attach deadbolt locks to prevent wandering away from home. And enlist the help of family, friends, and neighbors to give yourself a break from time to time.
As the disease progresses, you may come to a time when facility care is necessary for the safety of your loved one. If this season happens, don’t feel like you have failed. It is but one possible outcome of the disease. Appreciate the time you have spent personally investing in the life of your loved one, and visit often. We will talk more about facility care at another time because there is a place for it in the spectrum of aging care issues. But for now, we hope you will join the conversation below, and share your heart.