Being a caregiver is no easy task. Caregivers for people with Alzheimer's can find the role rewarding, but there is no doubt that it is a demanding task to undertake and comes with a unique set of challenges. If you're providing home care to a loved one with Alzheimer's disease, here are some helpful tips on how to support yourself and your loved ones.

What is Alzheimer's?

Alzheimer's is a type of dementia that gradually degenerates memory, thought processes and behavior. Almost 7 million people aged 65 or older in the U.S. are living with Alzheimer's disease according to an Alzheimer's Association report. The report states that in 2023, around 11.5 million family members and caregivers spent 18.4 billion hours of unpaid time helping individuals with this disease. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that 63% of caregivers can expect to provide dementia care to someone with Alzheimer's for 5 or more years.

Providing memory care to loved one

To lessen the strain of providing care for a person with Alzheimer's, consider the following dementia caregiver tips:

1. Organization is key

Staying organized will make life so much easier for you and the person you are caring for. Utilizing to-do lists and calendars can help you both keep track of appointments, when visitors are coming over and when to take certain medications.

Keeping consistent routines can help those dealing with Alzheimer's stay engaged in daily activities that they are familiar with. Eat meals, get dressed, go for a walk and bathe at the same times every day. People with Alzheimer's will eventually lose the ability to do these tasks, so it's important to continue to do these tasks every day until that point comes.

2. Stay educated

Learning about the disease in its current stage and how it will progress will help you prepare for the future and understand the present. The more you understand about Alzheimer's, the more you will be able to relate to the person you are caring for and understand their experience.

Every person affected by Alzheimer's disease has a unique experience, and individuals may exhibit various symptoms at different phases of the disease — mild, moderate and severe. Being communicative with the person's care doctor can explain these differences and help you learn how to better care for the person.

3. Encourage communication

Dealing with a disease diagnosis is scary enough, but dealing with one that affects how your brain functions can be extremely frightening. Individuals dealing with Alzheimer's may forget certain words, stop mid-sentence not remembering the end of their thought or have difficulty expressing their feelings. You may notice that they stop communicating as frequently as their disease progresses because of these factors.

Encourage communication with the person you are caring for by speaking slowly and calmly, addressing them by name, focusing on one question or statement at a time and maintaining eye contact. Being patient and open about communication will encourage the person you are caring for to express their needs and wants without the feeling of judgment.

4. Increase their sense of self-worth

It's frustrating to forget what you were going to say or suddenly not remember how to do simple tasks like turn on the washing machine. Over time as these instances begin to happen more often, a person's self-esteem may start to wear thin. Caregivers can help build back some of that self-confidence by doing the following:

  • Continue speaking to them as you would if they did not have a disease – speak to them as an adult, use their name in conversation and include them in conversations.
  • Spend more time focusing on what they are capable of doing, instead of focusing on the things they are no longer able to do alone.
  • Include them in choosing which clothes they wear each day and take them for regular self-care days – haircuts, nail appointments, shopping.

5. Take care of yourself

It's no small task taking care of someone with Alzheimer's disease and any chance to receive caregiver support is key. It's seemingly impossible to take care of another person if you are not taking care of yourself. Consider joining a support group with other caregivers who can validate your feelings and offer helpful suggestions for taking care of yourself. If you're unsure where to look for help, the Alzheimer's Association can provide you with a list of local resources. All you need to do is provide your zip code.

Prioritize your health by getting enough sleep, exercising to reduce stress and seeking mental health support if needed. The most important thing you can do is ask for help when you need it. Support groups can offer suggestions of who to reach out to if you are struggling. It's important to be communicative with your friends and family if you are overwhelmed; you'll be surprised how many people are willing to lend a hand.

It's also important to look at opportunities for adult day service or similar programs. These services can provide either a partial day or a full day of supervised programming in a community. This can be helpful for caregivers who feel they need some time to run errands or just want some time for themselves.

You are appreciated, even if you don't realize it

Whether you are caring for a parent with dementia at home or providing Alzheimer's care for a partner, being a caregiver is no small feat. Dedicating your time to someone with Alzheimer's disease is difficult and can be tiresome. Remember that even if the person you are caring for doesn't outwardly express it, they are grateful for your presence and your compassion. Not everything will go perfectly, but being there for someone going through a difficult time is enough to help any person struggling not feel alone.