e-book Understanding Alzheimers: An Introduction for Patients and Caregivers

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Caregivers face emotional, health, and financial difficulties related to the challenges of the disease, but families often have a hard time discussing long-term needs. However, over half of American women report that they are ill-prepared to serve as caregivers for their parents.

Most Americans are unaware of the out-of-pocket financial costs associated with long-term care and incorrectly believe that Medicare will help cover the costs, which means many are financially unprepared to care for a loved one. This increased funding combined with the chronic care provisions of the Bipartisan Budget Act are vital steps toward creating a health care system that works better for patients and caregivers. Policymakers could also take steps to address the prevalence of the disease and increase support for caregivers. Each person with Alzheimer's disease will experience its symptoms and progression differently.

Tailor these practical tips to your family member's needs. Patience and flexibility — along with self-care and the support of friends and family — can help you deal with the challenges and frustrations ahead. Mayo Clinic does not endorse companies or products. Advertising revenue supports our not-for-profit mission. Any use of this site constitutes your agreement to the Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy linked below. A single copy of these materials may be reprinted for noncommercial personal use only.

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Monitoring incontinence, scheduling bathroom time, and providing reminders are techniques that can help caregivers manage incontinence at home. Sleep management. Other strategies for enhancing nighttime sleep include maintaining a darkened environment at night, providing an early evening warm bath, and limiting daytime napping. White noise. White noise—continuous, monotonous, soft background noise—has been shown to modestly decrease verbal agitation in some patients.

In addition to white noise generators, recordings of ocean waves, flowing streams, or other nature sounds may be soothing for the patient. Music therapy may also help by stirring memories and emotions.

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Dimming lights at mealtime may decrease mealtime agitation and increase food consumption. Visual cueing. Pictures may provide more effective cues for direction than words. Providing a supportive environment.

Doing More to Support Alzheimer’s Patients and Caregivers | Bipartisan Policy Center

Your physician can help you identify environmental triggers for example, lights that are too bright or uncomfortable room or water temperatures that may cause behavioral problems and work to eliminate them. Traditional psychosocial therapy. Counseling can help patients in mild states of dementia reduce anger, anxiety, fear, suspiciousness, frustration, and depression.

A mental health professional can provide advice and encouragement and help the patient interpret his or her feelings. Reminiscence therapy.

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By receiving encouragement and support from peers, patients can draw upon their long-term memory to recall and share events from their past. Reminiscence therapy often is conducted in group settings but can be used on an individual basis. Simulated presence. A person with moderate to severe dementia may find comfort in simulated conversations with a close friend or family member when the individual cannot be there in person.


A simple audio or video tape recording of the individual recounting past events, with pauses to allow the patient to respond, provides temporary companionship and allows caregivers to attend to other things. Pet therapy. Petting or watching small pets can improve the mood and behavior of dementia patients. Pets can be introduced in both group and individual counseling sessions. Recreational therapies. Recreational therapies include exercises, group activities, and simple games. Tailored to the stage of the disease, these can be excellent stimulation for the patient and can help control problem behaviors.

Art therapies. Art therapies include drawing, collage, coloring, sculpture, dance, and listening to music. These activities provide a creative outlet for the patient to express emotions without talking. Other benefits include mood improvement, sensory and intellectual stimulation, decreased agitation, and improved motor skills. As a result of the demanding and emotional work, caregivers tend to suffer clinical depression and anxiety more often than the general population.

A substantial percentage of caregivers—as many as fifty percent—experience depressive symptoms severe enough to call for treatment. As a caregiver of someone with dementia, you should be aware of the signs of depression and talk to your doctor if you have symptoms.

Providing the best possible care for your family member requires that you remain healthy and strong. The following symptoms in caregivers may indicate depression:. The spouses of Alzheimer disease patients often suffer the most and benefit significantly from long-term social support. When social support fails to reduce the depression, antidepressant medication may be helpful. In fact, treating even mild depression can make a remarkable difference for both you and your patient.

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Depression associated with or brought on by caregiving is not necessarily eliminated or reduced when a patient dies. For support after the death of a loved one, you and your family may want to talk with your physician or seek bereavement counseling. Caregivers who are prepared, knowledgeable, supported, and in good psychological and physical health ultimately provide the best care. You can take the following steps to prepare for the challenges of caring for a dementia patient. Geriatric psychiatrists, medical doctors with special training in the mental health of older adults, treat both older adults and their caregivers.

Geriatric psychiatrists can provide:. Geriatricians can be helpful when there is a mixture of complex medical and behavioral issues, when complex drug regimens need evaluating, and in the assessment of long-term care needs. Clinical psychologists and advance practice psychiatric nurses APNs can provide therapy for caregivers, and social workers can offer counseling and link patients and family members to community resources.

Activity and physical therapists provide guidance on appropriate levels of physical and group activity for patients.