I am one member of a family of five who has taken on the role of "Alzheimer's Caregiver". Our family is now in year six of this journey caring for my mom's sister. My aunt has now outlived many of her friends who we have met through the fights with this disease.
Alzheimer's is a progressive disease that affects the person's ability to remember, learn, reason, and make sound judgments. The personality of the person may change drastically as the disease progresses. Personality practices may include aggression and agitation or the person may become withdrawn. With time, activities of daily living such as feeding one's self and bathing will become increasingly more difficult and then impossible. The person with Alzheimer's may also become resistant to others helping with some of these activities.
Many people with the disease often stop eating. Swallowing sometimes becomes difficult for those in the later stages of the disease. Communication typically slows until the person may be unable to speak at all. Some people lose the ability to walk. Incontinence is another problem. Alzheimer's victims will often become suspicious of those around them including their own family. Hallucinations can be a common occurrence for many. The person with Alzheimer's may experience sleeplessness or the loss of a normal sleep pattern. As a result, many will wander all night and nap through the day. While these are some of the more common symptoms of the disease, no two people will experience the exact same symptoms.
Life is difficult once you become an Alzheimer's caregiver. The care of someone with Alzheimer's disease is a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week job with little time for rest. Even after the victim of Alzheimer's is moved into a care facility, the responsibilities of the family do not cease. They may change, but it still seems that Alzheimer's controls the lives of all nearly involved in the daily care of a loved one whether that's at home or in a care facility.
It is important to take certain steps to help maintain your own sanity and protect your daily life, too. First, stay informed. This includes being aware of changes in your loved one's condition and also being informed about advances being made in Alzheimer's care and treatment options. Information will help you face the challenges as the disease progresses.
Establish for your loved one a safe environment in which he / she has as much freedom and independence as possible. Involve other family members or friends in the daily care of the individual with Alzheimer's. It is impossible for one person to be solely responsible for the care of someone requiring 24-hour care. Alzheimer's caregivers absolutely MUST have time for themselves, too. Without they take care of themselves, they will not be able to care for the person who is sick.
Learn to adapt as the disease progresses and the old ways of handling situations no longer work. Be creative whenever necessary. Finally, stay involved with family and friends. Do not allow yourself to become isolated.
It is not uncommon for an Alzheimer's victim to outlive her caregiver. The demands are often so great that the caregiver's well-being may be compromised. Learning to follow the steps mentioned above can help improve life for the one with Alzheimer's and for those caring for them.