There are many practical implications to caring an Alzheimer’s patient. Here is a basic guide to what may be encountered.
The ability to drive is normally decided on a case by case basis. If there is any chance of the person getting lost or endangering lives, then driving should not be allowed.
Many patients hold on to this area of control. So long as they are dressed appropriately for the weather and don’t have their underwear on top of outer garments, it is best to allow them to retain this freedom as long as possible.
A patient may reach the stage where he cannot attend to any personal grooming. In this case:
- Keep the patient’s hair in a short, easy style to manage
- Allow male patients to grow a beard to do away with the daily shaving ritual
- Keep nails trimmed and check for ingrown toenails
- Dress the patient in loose, easy to fasten clothing
Patients in advanced stages of the disease will generally require assistance to bathe. Here are some points to be aware of:
- Fear of running water or water falling on the head is common
- Shower or bath chairs can make the process easier
- Use non-slip mats in baths and showers
- Sponge baths can suffice on alternate day so long as the genital area is kept clean
- Modesty can be an issue. Allow the person to wear a robe in the shower for this reason.
Alzheimer’s patients will reach the stage where they need assistance with brushing their teeth. Check for raw patches and ill fitting dentures as part of daily care. Swabs impregnated with toothpaste are available if the patient will not open his mouth properly. (Be careful of being bitten).
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This occurs for two main reasons:
- Age related conditions such as weakened pelvic muscles
- Confusion when trying to find a bathroom and inability to get clothes off quickly
Try not to make a fuss if an accident happens. Rather schedule regular bathroom visits and look for signs that the patient needs the toilet. There is an excellent range of adult pads and diapers available if incontinence becomes a big problem.
If the patient is bedridden, turn him every three hours to prevent bedsores from forming. A sheepskin can help cushion tender flesh.
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Keep meals to a regular schedule and make sure the patient is eating enough. Swallowing becomes difficult for some in the latter stages of the disease.
- Serve food cut into small pieces
- Offer finger foods
- Serve the patient in a room where he is comfortable
- Keep distractions to a minimum
Light exercise is to be encouraged. Look at things like walking, dancing and gardening. If the patient enjoyed swimming in the past, the caregiver could swim with him, ensuring he is wearing a life jacket.
Sleep problems are common and are the main reason for placing patients in residential care. To settle a patient at bedtime, try these tips:
- Restrict caffeine to six hours before bedtime
- Don’t allow heavy snacks close to bedtime
- Have a bedtime routine
Keeping Track of a Loved One
In case a patient goes wandering, mark all his clothing with iron on labels giving his name, address and phone number. Mark underwear and socks as well. A medic alert or safe return bracelet are also options.
An Alzheimer’s patient generally has more than one caregiver. If they all follow the same routines and rules, life will be more settled and easier for all concerned.