Alzheimer's Caregivers: Patience, Sympathy Are Key
Mintzer said there are no treatments currently available to alter the course of the disease. However, two types of medications have been approved in the United States to help with memory loss: a group of drugs called cholinesterase inhibitors (brand names include Aricept, Exelon, Razadyne and Cognex) and memantine (brand name Namenda). However, the Alzheimer's Association reports that these medications don't work for everyone and, on average, delay worsening of symptoms only by about six to 12 months.
Also, antidepressants, anti-anxiety and antipsychotic medications are used to ease some of the behavioral symptoms that can be a part of Alzheimer's disease, including agitation and anxiety. None of these medications have been specifically approved to treat Alzheimer's, however, so the Alzheimer's Association recommends discussing the risks and the benefits of any medication with a doctor.
Despite the limitations of existing medications, problem behaviors can sometimes be overcome with the right type of stimulation and care.
"We need to see ourselves as a therapeutic agent," said Mintzer. "Patients have needs. When social stimulation is diminished, patients tend to get agitated." He noted that sundowning -- increased confusion and agitation that some people with Alzheimer's experience later in the day -- "may occur because the amount of care goes down in the evening, whether at home or in a nursing home."
"Sit down and talk with them for five minutes every hour," Mintzer suggested. "Talk with them in a non-threatening manner. Share a meal, or even sit down and split a cookie. It may not meet your needs for a social interaction, but that's not the purpose of it."
Using a calm voice is always important, and it's often easier to redirect attention than to try to get your friend or loved one to change a behavior. It's important to acknowledge any questions or requests, even though it may be the fifth time in 10 minutes that you've been asked what the time is. Each request is new to them.
Dinau said that she tries to keep routines as normal as possible. Instead of letting someone have dinner in bed, she guides them to the table to eat and then has a conversation with them during dinner. "A little activity here and there really helps," she said.