There's a lot you can do to help someone you care about with Alzheimer's enjoy their day-to-day activities. Even though people with the disease can get frustrated or confused easily, take these steps to help them feel calm and safe.
1. Keep a Routine
People with Alzheimer's tend to prefer a familiar schedule and settings. Changes can be hard for them.
If you need to break the routine -- for instance, to take your loved one to the doctor -- leave a reminder about the visit on the fridge or mark a large calendar in their home, says Linda Davis, PhD, RN, an elder care expert at Duke University.
Leaving notes is helpful, Davis says, because people with the disease can often understand what they read when they can't understand spoken words.
She also suggests that you leave notes around in your loved one’s home with directions such as, "This way to the bathroom." It will help keep their surroundings feeling familiar and comfortable.
2. Limit the Amount of Sound and Movement
People with Alzheimer's can be easily overwhelmed by crowds and noise, says Marsha Lewis, PhD, dean of the School of Nursing of the University at Buffalo.
She recommends these strategies to keep distractions in check:
Try not to shop in crowds. Instead of a busy mall, go to a small store. Or go when stores aren't likely to be busy.
Gather in small groups. Even though your loved one may like to see the whole family at the holidays, he may get flustered by all the grandchildren. To make visits better for everyone, have smaller groups of family members drop in at different times.
Keep the TV off during other activities. Someone with Alzheimer's may find it hard to tell the difference between what's going on in the room and what's on TV.
3. Find Things They Can Do
Spending time on familiar tasks and hobbies can help your loved one feel productive and happy, Lewis says. As long as they can do it safely, it’s a great idea.
You might need to take a different approach with a favorite activity or do things together. For example:
- Grandma, who loves to bake, might still be able to stir batter after you've measured out the ingredients. She could drop cookies onto a cool sheet while you get the pans in and out of the hot oven.
- Someone who gets confused by all of the settings on the washing machine may be able to take towels out of the dryer and fold them.
- A lifelong carpenter who can't handle power tools may be happy sanding a block of wood.
4. Be Understanding
Alzheimer's makes it hard to improve skills or remember directions. So you need to make adjustments for how much your loved one can -- and can't -- do.
Lewis says, for example, you could let your mother set the table as best as she's able. If you later need to quietly rearrange the silverware, that's OK.
Or instead of reminding your father-in-law not to drink out of the milk container over and over, buy him his own container and put his name on it.
5. Make Decisions for Your Loved One
People with Alzheimer’s may get flustered when they have to make decisions, Lewis says. So it's OK to take some control of everyday choices.
For example, rather than asking your mother what she wants to wear, let her pick between just two blouses. Or simply choose one for her and tell her how nice she looks wearing it.
At a restaurant, help her look at the menu. Then suggest a few items that you know she would like.
6. Be Ready for "Sundowning"
At night, some people with Alzheimer's grow upset more easily. This is called sundowning.
Davis suggests these steps to help calm your loved one in the evenings:
Turn on more lights. She may be more comfortable in well-lit rooms.
Show your concern. At night, your loved one may worry that an intruder is trying to break into the home. Don't dismiss her fears. Instead, let her watch you check that the doors and windows are locked. Reassure her that no prowlers are in her home or yard. Little steps like that may help her relax.