Almost every minute Alzheimer’s disease impacts a new brain in the United States, and 2/3 of these belong to women. Women are also more likely to become a primary caregiver to someone living with Alzheimer’s.
While Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia impact everyone, women are at the center of this growing epidemic.
Maria Shriver and The Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement™ is on a mission to inform and educate women around the US and provide key research to find out why women are more likely to receive an Alzheimer’s diagnosis.
You can join the Women’s Movement in the fight. Sign up online to show your support, see tips on how to keep your brain healthy and active, get the facts on Alzheimer’s or explore tips for caregivers.
Taking care of your kids at home while caring for an elderly parent? You’re a member of The Sandwich Generation, although the name sounds more appetizing than the scenario.
Adults in The Sandwich generation have children at home – or older kids maybe fresh out of the nest but still requiring support – and they also have an elderly parent who with increasing care needs. It’s a daunting and exhausting place to be – and we haven’t even mentioned the full-time workload you’re probably carrying.
We’re here to provide support.
7 Tips to Ease the Burden of Raising Kids While Caring for Elderly Parents
There is good news for The Sandwich Generation is twofold. First, you are not alone. In fact, according to the Pew Research Center nearly 50% of adults between the ages of 40 and 59 have a minor at home and/or an adult child they support AND have a parent 65+ who will require increasing levels of care. Just knowing you have a tribe out there can help.
Secondly, you are seen. Those of us who work in the world of senior and memory care witness first hand the burden placed upon you. We have many tips to help you take care of everyone in your family, without sacrificing the last vestiges of yourself, your energy levels and overall well-being.
Putting these 7 tips you can put into place can help ease the hardships placed on you and your family during this compressed period of time.
1 – Start visiting local assisted living communities
. In the midst of crisis is one of the worst times to make big decisions. Instead, take advantage of free consultations with assisted living and memory care communities in your area. These consultations are rich with information and ideas you can put to work now while considering and developing your long-term plan.
Visiting long term care facilities is the only way to know which one feels like the best fit for you/your parents when the time comes. And if your parent is in the beginning stages of dementia or Alzheimer’s, these consultations give him/her some agency regarding their future – very important during a time when seniors often feel like they’re losing autonomy.
2 – Make the home safe and accessible
There are plenty of articles out there on how to remodel a home and make it accessible, but it doesn’t have to be that complicated. With even simple changes and adjustments to your parent’s house and yard, you’ll notably decrease their risk of falling – and that decreases their risk of hospitalization or surgical interventions known to contribute to senior cognitive decline.
Some of the most easiest changes to making a senior’s home safer include installing motion-sensitive lighting, minimizing trip hazards (like exposed cords, edges of area rugs, uneven thresholds, etc.), installing handrails in toilet and bath/shower areas, building a ramp if needed, rearranging cupboards so everyday items are accessible without bending over or standing on a step stool, and providing an easier way to reach you when needed.
3 – Include your children in the process
. We often forget children are alert and aware of what’s happening in the household and to the ones they love. Even if you think you’re keeping the majority of the “heavy stuff” out of their world, they know and sense you are being stretched beyond your means.
However, even adult children don’t always know what to say or how to help. Similarly, children are just as worried and concerned about their grandparent(s) in their own way and may feel very helpless, which can cause younger children and teens to act out.
If nothing else, foster open communication in age-appropriate ways about what’s happening to grandma and/or grandpa, how you are feeling and about how difficult this situation is at times. The more open and communicative your family is, the more supportive and connected it can remain – even during the toughest moments. If they’re old enough, engage children in helping to provide care and companionship, if they’re young – find little things they can do to be useful. We recommend reading, alz.org’s, Helping Your Children or Grandchildren. The tips are universal for any family coping with dementia or Alzheimer’s – whether you’re sandwiched or not.
4 – Make taking care of yourself a priority
You know the airplane safety spiel about fastening your oxygen mask first, and then ensuring everyone around you has fastened theirs? Use it as a metaphor for your current life. If you think things are emotionally and financially challenging now, imagine what it would be like if you wound up succumbing to serious medical issues as a result of over stressed caregiver depletion. It happens all the time to primary caregivers and it leaves their loved ones in a major lurch.
Primary caregivers must make their well-being a priority so they remain healthy, balanced and as centered as possible through this phase of the journey. That means eating a well-balanced diet, finding ways to get a little exercise in (some days, that might mean parking in the furthest spot to walk a little longer or taking the stairs instead of the elevator) and finding a way to clear 5- or 10-minutes of quiet-time amidst the busy-ness. Joining an Alzheimer’s support group can also provide a wealth of emotional support and bolstering.
5 – Take advantage of respite care options.
If your parent hasn’t relocated yet, contact local home care agencies to ask about their respite care services. Respite care providers give primary spouse and/or family caregivers the opportunity to focus on their regularly scheduled lives. In your case, this means more time to have dinner with the family, attend academic and extracurricular activities, go to bible study or religious events and to gain more quality time with the kids.
It can also serve as a baby step of sorts, a means of getting you and your parent accustomed to letting someone else help out with everything from companionship, driving and medication reminders, to meal preparation, bathing, dressing and toileting – all the things that may need to be taken over as your parent’s condition progresses.
6 – Imagine you’re meeting your parent for the first time
Whether a parent is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia, suffering from the crippling grief from the loss of a spouse and/or peers, or is simply frustrated s/he can no longer do the things s/he loved – The ability to take big steps back is an amazing skill-set for children caregivers to develop.
Imagine you’re meeting your parent for the very first time. See your parent as s/he is now – while keeping your memories sacred. This will help you to find new ways to connect, explore creative ways to communicate, and establish deeper means of cultivating compassion with who they are – and what they’re capable of – in each moment.
7 – Be gentle with yourself
You’re under a tremendous pressure – not to mention emotional duress. Also, you are human. Be gentle and compassionate with yourself – and always forgive yourself in the moments you aren’t at your best.
The Memory Center, Atlanta construction is nearly complete and will be opening our doors to our first residents very soon.
Contact us for a tour of The Memory Center, Atlanta behind Emory Johns Creek hospital. Our newest community will be the most comprehensive facility specializing in the care of those living with Alzheimer’s and dementia in the Atlanta area.
Research has proven the human touch is powerful, and it holds true even when someone is living with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.
In fact, a simple hug or touch on the arm can calm someone with memory loss by decreasing stress, anxiety and promoting relaxation. We see this at The Memory Center communities every day.
As the disease progresses, some people will want to be touched more and more such as wanting to hold your hand, having their arm rubbed or giving hugs. Even though the individual may not remember day-to-day details, that doesn’t mean they forget emotions and the feelings associated with them.
As shown in the graphic below there are some tips to hugging someone with Alzheimer’s to avoid frightening them and to accurately convey the emotion.
While touch is very powerful and can greatly benefit people living with Alzheimer’s it is still a good idea to ask them if it is all right. Everyone is different and will have good and bad days – including some where they may not welcome a hug.
June is Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness month to support those living with memory loss, recognize their caregivers, raise awareness and funds for research to end Alzheimer’s.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, over 47 million people worldwide are living with dementia. In Virginia Alzheimer’s cases are expected to increase 35.7 percent from 140,000 in 2010 to about 190,000 in 2025.
Everyone at the The Memory Centers in Virginia Beach, Richmond and Atlanta encourage you to learn the facts, recognize the warning signs of Alzheimer’s and help spread the word to friends and family.
The Alzheimer’s Association makes it easy to learn more about this disease, get involved and show your support.
Wearing Purple and Getting Social
Wear purple any day in June or better yet, take a photo of you, your friends, family or even pets wearing purple. Share your photo on Twitter on Istagram with the hashtags #ENDALZ or #MyAlzStory then head to alz.org/abam/#takeAction to see your in the gallery.
You can even use this graphic as your profile picture on social media and encourage your friends to do the same.
Forming or Joining a Longest Day Team
The Longest Day is an event to raise funds and awareness of Alzheimer’s disease. Held on the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, this sunrise-to-sunset event symbolizes the journey of those living with the disease, their caregivers and loved ones.
Anyone can form a team and create an event, no matter where you live. Just choose the activity for your team then start fundraising. On June 21st your team will work together from sunrise to sunset. You can sing, kayak, walk, paint, crochet – you name it. Click for a list of ideas from the Alzheimer’s Association.
If you miss the deadline to form a team you can still join a team. Click to find teams near you.
Don’t miss your chance to help. Gather your friends and visit alz.org/abam/#goPurple to find out more about turning the world purple in June, get the facts and find out what you can do to help.
Alzheimer’s disease can be difficult for children, teens, children even adults to understand. There will be times you grandma doesn’t seem like she used to. Or without warning she may get confused, agitated or even angry to the point of accusing you of stealing. And it may happen when you are out in public, at church, the grocery store, or at a family gathering. Even though you know Alzheimer’s is the cause, it is common to be embarrassed about it.
While you can’t stop behavior changes due to Alzheimer’s, there are tips to help you better manage the situation.
Think About It From Their Perspective
Alzheimer’s progressively destroys brain cells over time, so during the early stages many people living with the disease do recognize something is wrong. They may know they are supposed to recognize you, but they can’t. Imagine how frustrating and scary that would be.
It is important to put yourself in their shoes and think about how you might react if your world suddenly didn’t make sense or you were in a position where you realized you should know someone – even a close family member – but just couldn’t remember who they were or what they meant to you.
Adjust Social Routines
Everyone needs social interaction, even those living with memory loss. But as the disease progresses unfamiliar places and social interactions can become scary and more become difficult to manage.
Consider hosting the monthly family dinner at your house, or the home of a close friend instead of meeting at a new restaurant. Consider a familiar locale for the family vacation and stick to visiting favorite landmarks and attractions.
While each day is different, through many stages of Alzheimer’s it is likely your loved one will feel more comforted and peaceful with the familiar vs. something new that might trigger fear or agitation.
Have A Sense Of Humor
While Alzheimer’s and dementia are serious, as a family member of friend keeping a sense of humor makes a big difference. Let’s face it, there are times you just have to find humor in the situation. It can lighten the mood not only for yourself, but also for your family and your loved one suffering from memory loss.
And don’t forget is human nature to pick up on the emotions of others around you and this is no different for those living with memory loss. Getting embarrassed or anxious when grandma says the wrong thing can even make the situation worse as she picks up on your rising level of anxiety.
Sometimes it is just best to whisper a quiet apology, laugh and move on.
Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease that destroys memory. If someone can’t remember, recalls something differently, or is convinced the neighbor stole their favorite pen, don’t spend time arguing or trying to convince them otherwise. Even if they end up agreeing with you today it is no guarantee they will remember it tomorrow. Instead try reassuring them or even asking questions about the memory they are recalling.
Alzheimer’s disease is typically referred to in three stages. Early, middle and late stage. Many people are familiar with the early (or mild) and the late (or severe) stages, but not sure what to expect from the middle stage.
Moderate, or middle stage, Alzheimer’s is generally the longest stage of the disease with some living in the stage for several years.
As the disease progresses family members and caregivers may notice behaviors such as:
Needing assistance performing daily tasks such as bathing or dressing
Difficulty following a conversation or remembering details about what day it is or their family history
Withdrawing from social situations
Behavior or more frequent mood changes including becoming agitated, suspicious of others
Changes in sleep patterns such as wanting to sleep more during the day, and difficulty sleeping at night
Safety concerns become an issue at this stage and caregivers or loved ones may have to initiate tough conversations. Taking away car keys, moving in with family members or hiring around the clock care for example. Wandering, a typical Alzheimer’s behavior, may appear and should be taken as a serious safety concern.
Caring For Someone In Middle Stage Alzheimer’s
Caring for someone at this stage becomes increasingly demanding. As the disease progresses caregivers become responsible for day-to-day tasks such as helping the person get dressed, grooming, shopping, meals, household chores, transportation, keeping them occupied and much more.
Many caregivers become so busy taking care of their loved one they start to ignore their own needs such as not getting enough sleep, not exercising, not socializing with friends, or taking the breaks they need. To be a good caregiver you need time away and shouldn’t feel guilty about asking trusted friends, neighbors or even hiring help on a regular basis to give you a break.
If you haven’t already, develop a daily schedule and try to stick to it the best you can. Life with Alzheimer’s often comes with surprises, but having a routine helps makes sense of the day and can provide reassurance to your loved one. Each day should also include activities that provide a sense of purpose and can be adapted to the person’s abilities or mood.
Activities such as taking a walk, working in the garden, listening to music, sorting playing cards, clipping coupons or folding laundry are ideas.
If you have a spouse or family member diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia you are probably wondering how long they will be able to live at home and how much help they will need.
Alzheimer’s disease can progress slowly and during the early to mid-stages of the disease living at home with help is possible. Even so, many caregivers find it necessary to enlist family members, nurses or home health-care aids to help. Not only so their loved one can remain at home longer but also give the caregiver routine breaks to rest, exercise or catch up with friends.
As Alzheimer’s continues to progressive it impacts more than just memory. It affects brain functions including sense of perception and balance, behavior, bodily functions and other systems. Eventually the person will no longer be able to live without around the clock care. They may no longer be able to dress themselves, feed themselves or even use the restroom without help or supervision.
At this stage even with hired part-time help, living at home becomes less of an option. It and can even become a safety concern and care in a residential facility becomes necessary.
Even though most caregivers find it a hard subject to discuss, it is important to research residential care options early, even if you think you won’t need them. Waiting to research options until there is a crisis, such as a fall, can leave you scrambling to find quality care quickly.
Most residential facilities have a waiting list so it is a good idea to find one that best suits your needs and get on the waiting list early. In most cases if a room becomes available and you aren’t ready to move in, you can remain on the waiting list and have the community contact you when the next room becomes available.
About The Memory Centers
The Memory Center communities in Richmond, Virginia Beach and Johns Creek provide exceptional care for those living with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Founded as the first assisted living facilities devoted specifically to memory care, our program is designed to meet the challenging conditions of an aging brain with a caring, interactive community.
Our custom programs and activities are designed to inspire purpose, validate actions and invigorate while providing the highest quality of life for residents. Functional and fun are key components of our activities – and we encourage family members and spouses to take an active role in their loved one’s care or join us for daily activities.
Sleep problems aren’t uncommon in the senior population, but for those living with Alzheimer’s and dementia sleep changes including insomnia or late-night restlessness are more common.
As Alzheimer’s progresses, it can cause the individual’s circadian rhythm to get off-kilter, reversing or rotating the body’s natural sleep/wake cycles. Then, there is the lack of physical exercise, or other health issues which can result in a body that can’t seem to ever get a good night’s sleep.
As a caregiver, coping with an Alzheimer’s sleep problems can be taxing. Nighttime is often a trigger for sundowning which can lead to agitated or even angry, resentful or disturbing behavior from a patient or loved one. Additionally, lack of sleep can exacerbate the side effects Alzheimer’s side effects, while a night of restful sleep can result in a person who is more calm, relaxed and peaceful the next day.
If Alzheimer’s sleep changes are an issue, these tips can help you establish healthier sleep habits.
Get Enough Exercise
If the individual is physically able, work within their ability and interests and aim for at least 30-minutes of physical activity every day. This may be as simple as a walk around the block, gardening, or attending a yoga class.
For those in a wheelchair or bed-bound, stationery exercises will get their muscles moving. Stationary exercises can be done in a chair or bed – using weights, stretching, manual motion and exercise bands. When done correctly, these exercises can maintain or even improve muscle tone, bone density and range of motion. We recommend reading, Chair Exercises and Limited Mobility Fitness to get started. You can also a doctor for a physical therapist who specializes in Alzheimer’s and/or senior care for a list of appropriate exercises and equipment.
If the person has been completely or mostly stationery up to this point, adding regular exercise can also lead to positive change in mood, digestion and even cognition as the result of increased circulation and engagement.
Limit Caffeine, Nicotine and Alcohol
Caffeine, nicotine and alcohol are all stimulants, known to interrupt sleep and relaxation patterns.
While limiting caffeine intake after lunchtime helps, remember caffeine may remain in the bloodstream for eight or more hours. Thus, cutting it out completely – replacing teas and coffees with decaf versions – is recommended. Keep in mind that even decaffeinated coffee or black tea contains small amounts of caffeine.
Natural Light Is Important
Human circadian rhythms evolved in the presence of sunlit days and dark nights. Evidence from multiple studies, shows artificial light can muck up this system. Even dim lights at night will interrupt the brain’s melatonin production, essential to experiencing healthy sleep cycles.
Getting your patient or loved one outside is optimal, but even spending a few hours each day next to a window – or using natural daylight as the predominant light source before sunset – can help to preserve the body’s natural rhythm. At The Memory Centers our Town Center is filled with natural light, one during nice weather we take advantage of our secure walking paths and courtyard.
Once the sun sets, find the balance between dim lighting that facilitates the brain’s natural sleep cycle and safety lighting. Or consider using red night-lights that are often less likely to disturb the body’s biochemical sleep processes.
Maintain Regular Schedules
Consistency is key in maintaining healthy sleep patterns. If a patient struggles to sleep soundly, make it a practice to wake them up, observe mealtimes and begin the bedtime routine at the same time each day. This helps to “train” the circadian rhythm. Read more tips on developing a schedule.
Limit Screen Time Before Bed
The blue light and images emanating from TV, tablet and smartphone screens can act as a stimulant and make it more difficult for the brain to wind down. Sleep experts recommend turning off all televisions and ceasing any other screen activity for at least 30-minutes before bedtime.
Make The Bed A Sleep-Only Zone
If eating, watching TV and staying in bed too much during the day the becomes the normal habitat, it can make bedtime a more restless experience.
If possible, make the bed a sleep-only zone, and have your loved one move to their chair or a couch if they’re awake or feeling restless. This promotes a healthy, sleep-oriented relationship with the bed.
Address Comfort Concerns
Any pain or discomfort can exacerbate insomnia. Test the patient’s bed – is it comfortable? Is the room too warm or too cold? Are they hungry or thirsty? Do they have the right amount of pillows? All of these factors can make it difficult to sleep. Also pay attention to movements or facial expressions to assess if pain might be an issue.
You Aren’t Alone
Caring for someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia is challenging – but it helps to know you aren’t alone. Talking to friends or family on a regular basis, taking breaks, or even participating in an online resource board such as ALZ Connected is recommended.
Caring for someone with Alzheimer’s or other form of dementia is challenging, and caring for a spouse or family member add the emotions of seeing a loved one in a state of decline.
While there are no easy answers or fool-proof way to get through a day as a caregiver without any frustration, there are practical tips that can help you prepare for common challenges.
Handling Alzheimer’s Frustration & Agitation
Agitation is common in people living with Alzheimer’s and dementia. It can be caused by boredom, new situations, fear stemming from trying to make sense of a world they no longer understand, or basic needs like being thirsty.
While caregivers can’t completely eliminate agitation there are steps you can take to get ahead of it.
Take note of when agitation seems to occur. Is it a a specific time of day around mealtime? Perhaps they are hungry or thirsty. Is it at a busy time of day when other family members are coming home from work? If so try to limit noise or outside distractions and engage them in an appropriate activity.
Try incorporating activities that provide a sense of independence and purpose – especially with those in the early stages of the disease. Familiar activities like setting the table, gardening, folding laundry, helping in the kitchen (with supervision), or a favorite craft. See our ideas for different activities or these tips from the Alzheimer’s Association.
Feeling Like There Is No Routine
Even though it might sound impossible, developing a basic schedule around your loved one’s mood and daily needs is beneficial for everyone.
Knowing what to expect such as eating breakfast at the same time each day, taking a walk after lunch, sorting cards in the afternoon helps everyone feel more at ease with the day and also eliminate blocks of time where it seems like there is nothing to do (which can quickly lead to agitation).
Plan to schedule appointments, bathing and other activities during the time of day when your loved one is usually more rested, has more energy and is more agreeable. For most people with memory loss, this is in the morning.
As late afternoon approaches many will begin wandering and can become agitation from sundowning. During this time of day plan easy, soothing activities such as listening to music, watching a familiar movie, clipping coupons or looking through old photos.
Not Getting Enough Help and Support
Caregivers often feel isolated and it is important to know you are not alone! Many others are in the same situation so don’t be afraid to reach out and attend support groups where you can share your feelings and learn from others. The Alzheimer’s Association and other organizations also offer online forums and support where you can connect with others 24 hours a day.
Caregivers are under a lot of stress and often don’t take time to keep up with friends, exercise routines or their own needs. Not taking breaks can easily lead to fatigue and caregiver burnout which isn’t good for you or the person you are caring for.
Even if someone with Alzheimer’s objects, caregivers need to schedule time away on a regular basis. Ask another family member for help or consider using respite services who can provide caregivers experienced working with Alzheimer’s and dementia. The more you enlist the same person to help on a consistent basis the more comfortable everyone will become.
Safety Issues & Concerns
In addition to memory loss, Alzheimer’s also affects other brain functions including sense of perception and balance. Create a safe place in the home where they can walk without trip hazards such as rugs, cords, or sharp corners is highly encouraged and can reduce falls or other accidents.
Another safety concern is wandering, which is a common behavior for people with memory loss. Even if your loved one isn’t wandering, you should still take steps to prevent wandering before it starts.Consider installing locks high up on doors and adding an alarm system, or a simple bell mechanism, that will alert you if a door has been opened. ID bracelets and other tracking devices like Medic Alert can help identify your loved one should they wander off.
Accepting Each Day Is Different
Even with a schedule every day will be different and sometimes you just need to be flexible. Those with Alzheimer’s, and their caregivers, will have better days than others. There may be days you feel like you didn’t get anything accomplished – and it is OK to feel that way. Keeping someone fed, safe, bathed and occupied is a big job and an accomplishment in itself.
Get More Alzheimer’s Tips
All Memory Center communities are dedicated to meeting the challenging conditions of an aging brain with a caring, interactive community designed around the individual. We are here to support our current residents, future residents and their families by providing resources and exceptional programming to those living with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.