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Alzheimer's Care

Alzheimer's care: Practical tips

Alzheimer's care is a tough job. These practical tips can make it easier.

By Mayo Clinic staff

In the early stages of Alzheimer's, your loved one may still be able to perform the daily tasks that allow a person to live and function independently. These abilities dwindle as the disease progresses.

Reduce frustrations

A person with Alzheimer's may react with frustration, agitation and even aggression when once-automatic tasks become difficult or impossible. Try these suggestions to limit the challenges and ease the frustration.

  • Schedule wisely. Determine the time of day when your loved one is most calm and agreeable. Schedule the most difficult tasks, such as bathing or medical appointments, for that time period. Established routines help make the day more predictable and less confusing.
  • Let him or her help. Involve your loved one in tasks as much as possible. Perhaps your husband can shave himself if you turn on the electric razor and put it in his hand. Maybe your wife can dress herself if you lay out the clothes in the order they go on.
  • Limit choices. Having fewer options makes deciding easier. For example, provide two outfits to choose between — not a closet full of clothes. Reduce distractions at mealtimes or during conversations so that your loved one can better focus on one thing at a time.
  • Take more time. Expect things to take longer than they used to. Schedule more time to complete even simple tasks so that you don't need to hurry your loved one. Provide instructions one step at a time.

Try to be flexible

With Alzheimer's, your loved one's ability to function and cope will steadily decline. It may even vary from day to day. Try to stay flexible and adapt your routine as needed.

A favorite food may suddenly become unappealing. Or your loved one may insist on wearing the same outfit every day. If that happens, consider buying a few identical outfits. When your loved one is bathing, simply switch the worn outfit for a clean one.

Allow your loved one to do as much as possible with the least amount of assistance. Relax your standards — don't always strive for the way things should be done. Bathing, for example, may not be necessary every day, especially if it's upsetting for your loved one. Try switching to sponge baths between showers or tub baths.

Create a safe environment

Alzheimer's disease impairs judgment and problem-solving skills, increasing your loved one's risk of injury. You can modify the home to help your loved one maneuver within it as easily as possible. Here are some suggestions:

  • Avoid throw rugs, extension cords and any clutter that can cause your loved one to trip or fall. Install handrails in critical areas to prevent falls.
  • Install locks on cabinets that contain medicine, alcohol, guns, toxic cleaning substances, dangerous utensils and tools.
  • Remove plug-in appliances from the bathroom to avoid the risk of electric shock, and set water-heater temperature no higher than 120 F (49 C) to prevent burns.
  • Make sure you have a first-aid kit, a fire extinguisher and working smoke alarms in the home. If your loved one is a smoker, don't allow him or her to smoke while alone. Control the access to matches or lighters yourself.

Individualized care

Each person with Alzheimer's disease experiences its symptoms and progression differently. Consequently, caregiving techniques need to vary. Tailor these practical tips to your loved one's individual needs. Remember that patience and flexibility are needed to help you and your loved one deal with the many frustrations ahead.