I have received quite a few emails from overwhelmed caregivers and their families. Many want to know about a “miracle” drug combination, a safe sedative or how to avoid the fallout of irritability. Many feel desperate – hopeless and helpless – especially when focusing on what their loved one used to do. They are tired, the kind of tired that is deep and defeating. I want to set the record straight.
There are no miracle cures at the moment. All medications have side effects. Anti-psychotics can cause neurological problems. However, Alzheimer’s, when put into the context of the present, can be managed. Medications are often a matter of trial and error and working closely with a neurologist or geriatric psychiatrist will help individualize your loved one’s treatment.
Here is how to navigate: Alzheimer’s is a family affair. Schedule periodic family meetings to discuss caregiving issues, treatment options and relief rescues. Families can reduce a stressful environment by picking up some of the burden like a team – sometimes you carry the ball and sometimes another member does. In this way you get to refresh and come back reinvigorated instead of burned out.
Everyone should be exercising, especially the patient. Activity will reduce stress, release natural feel good chemistry, boost the immune system and generate a healthy appetite.
Balanced quality foods (lean protein, complex carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables) are vital to improve mood and optimize health.
Music does soothe the soul not only listening to music, but also singing. You will find that singing songs from the patient’s time period will trigger memory – even if the patient rarely speaks, he or she could possibly sing all the lyrics to an old familiar song and surprise you. Singing also lowers blood pressure, boosts the immune system and reduces aches and pains. An added bonus is that you don’t have to have a good voice to reap the benefits. So sing the songs which pump you up or make you happy. If you feel afraid, sing a happy tune. When you are in a good mood, the patient’s mood will improve.
Get into an Alzheimer’s world with the patient instead of forcing him to live in your world. Don’t argue or contradict the patient making him or her feel bad or ashamed. Respect what the patient can still do. Be in the moment together because the moment is all any of us have anyway.
Look at things with a comic eye. There is great absurdity in the world. Laughter breaks negativity instantly. Your laughter will trigger laughter in the patient.
For more information on caregiving read my book, Changing Habits: The Caregivers' Total Workout. To listen to archived radio shows with guest experts visit Turn On Your Inner Light Radio Show