How Private Duty Caregivers Can Work with Alzheimer's Patients


A person in a wheelchair.
We understand much more about Alzheimer’s today than we used to in the past. What was once believed to be inevitable senility or personality/behavioral problems in the elderly is now known as a degenerative brain condition. Make no mistake – Alzheimer’s is a medical illness, but there is only so much medication can do to treat it. Although prescriptions such as Aricept and Namenda can delay the disease’s progression, at present, there is no known cure. Because of this, dealing with the condition requires special sensitivity and tactics from those closest to the victim. Read on to learn how private duty caregivers can work with Alzheimer’s patients.

No one said private duty caring for Alzheimer’s would be easy

If you’re a private duty caregiver for an Alzheimer’s patient, you are one of 15 million hard-workers. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, your average caregiving work week is 21.9 hours, and the annual value of your care is $13,588. The total value of care for all providers like you is $202 billion per year. Roughly 32% of you will be providing this care for five or more years. Sixty percent of you report high stress levels, and thirty-three percent of you report symptoms of depression. That’s a lot on the plate of just one person, but the tips in this article will help make it easier.

Approaching an Alzheimer’s patient

Right from the start, the way you approach an Alzheimer’s patient is very important. You can’t just walk up to them and say “Hi, how are you?” like you can with other people. Remember – Alzheimer’s is partly a disease of memory. It’s possible that if you greet a person with too much familiarity, they won’t recognize you – even if they saw you only moments ago. So when you approach him or her, be sure to:

  • Walk up to them slowly
  • Smile
  • Introduce yourself
  • State your relationship to them

If the person recognizes you (or even acts annoyed and says “I know who you are, silly!”) then great! If not, you still have a basis from which to build a new relationship – at least from the patient’s point of view.

Communicating with an Alzheimer’s patient

Alzheimer’s doesn’t just affect memory – it also affects cognition and behavior. This is why caregivers should take special considerations when communication with a person who has the disease. For instance:

  • Get their attention before speaking to them. It’s also a good idea to minimize distractions, such as a television or radio.
  • Don’t ask them too many questions at once, or present them with too many choices. When you do ask them a question, give them plenty of time to answer.
  • Don’t tell them how often you reminded them of something, no matter how many times you repeat the same information. They may ask you what time it is every five minutes or more. Simply repeat the answer as if it’s the first time they asked. It may try your patience to no end, but remember – they have no idea they just asked you. The part of their brain responsible for processing that information may be damaged beyond repair.
  • If the person seems angry or upset with you, don’t argue with them. Apologize for the perceived infraction – even if you have no idea what it is. Don’t criticize them or try to win arguments; you’ll only turn things into a control issue between you and the senior.

Private duty caregivers are in a unique position to help Alzheimer’s patients

The best thing about the techniques above is that they will work if the private-duty caregiver is a hired home health aide, or simply a caring friend or family member. The important thing is that caregivers practice these techniques out of love, understanding, and with an eye towards having realistic expectations of what an Alzheimer’s patient can achieve. By using them faithfully and patiently every day, you will not only have an easier time dealing with your senior, you may even come to enjoy it as well!
If you are unsure of how to best help an aging loved one, the trained and compassionate staff at the Institute on Aging is here to help you make that decision and gain the best in at-home senior care. Contact us to find out more.

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