Caring for an Alzheimer’s patient can be overwhelming. Not only do these patients require constant monitoring, they can also exhibit a number of challenging behaviors. They may even become violent. Help for the caretaker can take many forms, and strategies for accomplishing simple day-to-day tasks is one of these.
According to Jan Dougherty, RN, MS of the Banner Alzheimer’s Institute in Phoenix, Arizona, a number of strategies can be used to make day-to-day life easier for both the caretaker and the patient. These include approaching the patient in a non-threatening way, improving the patient’s comfort, and providing activities to distract the patient.
Make Day-to-Day Life easier
A number of techniques can be used to make the patient feel less threatened and intimidated when you approach him, particularly when you need to perform personal tasks such as giving him a shower. Treat the patient the way you would like to be treated. If anything, being sick increases a person’s need for the little courtesies of daily life.
Always introduce yourself at the beginning of any encounter. If it is appropriate, touch the patient. Smile, behave warmly toward the patient, and always use a pleasant voice.
Remember that just because you are in a hurry to complete a task does not mean that this is the best way to approach the patient. In the long run, taking a little extra time to make the patient feel less threatened and more comfortable with you will save you time. With a gentle approach you will enlist the patient’s cooperation.
Speak to the patient in short, simple sentences, and avoid correcting him. Avoid direct confrontations. Let the patient know that you will keep him safe. There is always more than one way to accomplish a task, so be flexible in your approach.
How would you feel if you had people taking care of you who didn’t keep you comfortable? The Alzheimer patient is no different. If you can anticipate and meet his most basic needs such as continence care, hunger and thirst, the patient will be much calmer. Offer him frequent snacks and drinks. Make sure that he is comfortably positioned and the room is at a comfortable temperature.
An Alzheimer patient may fatigue easily, so allow him frequent rest periods. Provide a variety of seating, such as rocking chairs, recliners, and beanbag chairs.
Many of these patients crave being touched in a comforting way. Giving them a 1-2 minute hand massage with lotion or oil can be very soothing.
Gentle the Patient
Providing the patient with interesting and soothing diversions can be very effective in lessening difficult behaviors. Talk to him about his life pets, his hometown, family members. Read something to him that is simple but calming such as a poem or a prayer. Show him pictures that he enjoys, such as family photos and pleasurable objects such as birds, flowers, and cars. Give him enjoyable foods such as chocolate or lifesavers. Provide him with something to hold onto such as a stuffed animal, a washcloth or your hand. Play music or gently encourage the patient to join in a song.
At meals, allow him to eat what he enjoys. If he would prefer pancakes over peas, allow him this small pleasure. Any food is better than no food, and nutrition is not as important as the patient meeting his hunger and thirst needs.
Of course, every individual is unique and will have his own preferences. With a little ingenuity and flexibility, the life of the caretaker and the patient can be greatly enhanced.
Dougherty, Jan. Program on Current and Future Treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease. “Non-pharmacological Strategies to Help Your Patients.” Tucson, Arizona. 12 July 2007.