Coping With Alzheimer’s Disease

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Being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease can be deeply distressing for you and your loved ones. As it progresses, this condition can make it difficult for you to go about your daily life, which can lead to a lot of anxiety and frustration.

Planning out your care and seeking social and emotional support can help you cope with this condition and live a meaningful life for as long as you’re able. If you are a caregiver, these steps can help you provide the help your loved one may need following a diagnosis.

Talk to your healthcare provider about your symptoms and ask them what you can expect. In addition to suggesting strategies that can help you cope, they may also be able to recommend resources and organizations that can be helpful to you.

Coping With Physical Symptoms

The symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease can make everyday tasks challenging. “Enlisting help from family and friends, delegating tasks, and hiring help to off-load more onerous tasks can be helpful,” says Richard Marottoli, MD, a geriatrician who specializes in treating Alzheimer’s disease.

Getting Help With Personal Care

Alzheimer’s disease can cause difficulties with self-care activities that have physical components, such as getting up out of a chair or bed, says Marottoli.

In the initial stages, a friend or family member may be able to help you with the tasks you’re unable to do; however, in the later stages, you may need a professional caregiver to help you with personal care.

These are difficult steps to take. After a lifetime of managing your own affairs and self-care, it can be painful to feel like you are losing your agency and self-determination. Preparing yourself and leaning on your support system, however, will be critical in helping you manage your well-being.

Preventing Falls

The later stages of Alzheimer’s can also involve issues with coordination, says Marottoli. He says an assistive device such as a cane or walker can help you maintain your balance.

Coordination and balance-related issues can make you more prone to falling. These are some steps you can take to prevent falls:

  • Wear sturdy, comfortable shoes that have good traction. 
  • Avoid wearing long, loose, or flowy clothing that could get caught in your feet.
  • Keep your home clean and clutter-free.
  • Avoid keeping any throw rugs or loose carpets on the floor.
  • Put anti-skid mats in the bathroom.
  • Install grab bars in the bathroom for support.
  • Ensure your home is well-lit and keep some light on at night.
  • Try and avoid a living arrangement that involves taking the stairs.

A physical or occupational therapist can assess your symptoms as well as your home, to determine what kind of support you need with daily living, whether you require an assistive device while walking, and what steps you can take to optimize your home for better safety and mobility, says Marotolli.

Coping With Incontinence

Alzheimer’s disease can lead to incontinence, which can make it difficult to control your bladder and bowel movements.

These are some strategies that can help you cope with incontinence:

  • Make it a point to go to the bathroom every couple of hours.
  • Opt for loose, comfortable clothing that you can easily remove.
  • Avoid caffeinated drinks, like tea, coffee, and soda.
  • Limit fluids in the evening and night; eat fruits if you feel thirsty instead.
  • Use a stable, raised toilet seat that is comfortable.
  • Ask a friend, family member, or caregiver for assistance if you need it.
  • Put waterproof mattress covers on your bed or consider using adult disposable briefs.

You should also report your or your loved ones' symptoms to a healthcare provider, because if the difficulty you are facing is caused by another condition, like a urinary tract infection or prostate gland condition, it may be treatable.

Managing Finances

Alzheimer’s can also affect your cognitive abilities and make it difficult for you to read, write, and manage numbers. If you are able to, you should get your affairs in order as soon as possible. You can enlist someone you trust to help you pay your bills and manage your money.

Coping Emotionally

Since Alzheimer’s disease has no cure and gets progressively worse, being diagnosed with it can be deeply distressing and cause you and your loved ones to experience shock, anger, denial, fear, and sadness.

Richard Marottoli, MD

Alzheimer’s disease can be emotionally taxing on patients and caregivers.

— Richard Marottoli, MD

As things you could once do with ease become more difficult, you may find yourself hiding your mistakes or struggles from your loved ones, or feeling reluctant to ask for help. This can cause considerable stress and add to your difficulties. Accepting assistance can feel like you’re losing your independence or giving up control of your life.

Seeking professional mental help, such as therapy, can help you process your feelings about the diagnosis, accept your condition and the changes it brings, and develop coping skills that can help you navigate the challenges you face.

Over time, the disease can cause significant changes in your mood and behavior. Confusion, anger, apathy, depression, and paranoia are some of the symptoms you might experience. They can be difficult for your loved ones and caregivers as well. “It is important to look for early signs, such as mood or behavioral symptoms, and be as positive and supportive as possible,” says Marottoli.

Seeking Social Support

In addition to enlisting help from family and friends, Marottoli says support groups are also very effective, as they allow participants to learn from and support each other. He recommends finding one that is geared toward your needs, like early-onset or early-stage groups, for instance.

Resources & Organizations

You can find a support group near you through the following organizations, according to Marottoli.

“Additionally, if there's an Alzheimer's Center or Geriatric Assessment Center in your area, they can also help identify community resources that may be appropriate to your particular needs,” says Marottoli.

Caregiving & Helping Others

In the early stages, if the person is forgetful but still able to care for themselves, it can be helpful to put reminders on their phone, for daily tasks as well as important things they need to remember.

Richard Marottoli, MD

Caregiving can be very difficult and draining, but also very rewarding.

— Richard Marottoli, MD

As the condition progresses, these are some strategies that can be helpful when caring for a person with Alzheimer’s disease:

  • Maintain a daily routine, so they know what to expect at a certain time.
  • Keep time on hand, because daily tasks may take longer than anticipated.
  • Reduce distractions and loud sounds, like the television, radio, or loud conversations.
  • Say or ask one thing at a time, to avoid confusion.
  • Reassure them if they get upset or agitated and let them know you’re there to help.
  • Avoid arguing or reasoning with them.
  • Try not to show your anger or frustration. If it’s safe to leave them, exit the room for a few minutes to give yourself a chance to calm down.
  • Use humor to diffuse difficult situations, if possible.
  • Engage them with music, singing, or dancing.
  • Try and maintain a positive outlook.
  • Ask them for help with simple tasks, like folding clothes or setting the table, for instance. Have them be as active and involved as possible.
  • Don’t let them take multiple or prolonged naps during the day, as that can cause them to be up at night.
  • Put potentially harmful items like knives, scissors, matches, lighters, guns, medication, alcohol, kitchen items, or cleaning chemicals out of reach, preferably behind lock and key.
  • Make sure they always have some form of identification on them, in case they wander or get lost.

A patient with Alzheimer’s may experience mood swings, anger, and paranoia. They may also hit or bite loved ones and caregivers. Inform their healthcare provider about these symptoms, as they may be able to prescribe medication that can help.

“It is important for caregivers to be realistic about their own capabilities and limitations and not be afraid to ask for help where/when needed. Taking care of yourself as a caregiver, physically and emotionally, is critical to being able to be present for your loved one with Alzheimer’s disease,” says Marotolli.

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By Sanjana Gupta
Sanjana is a health writer and editor. Her work spans various health-related topics, including mental health, fitness, nutrition, and wellness.