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What Every Alzheimer’s/Dementia Caregiver Must Know

By Kim Warchol, OTR/L, DCCT

(Page 4 of 5)


  • Praise no matter how messy the activity

  • Help complete brushing the child’s teeth, reaching those areas that are particularly difficult or taking over if the child becomes overwhelmed or cranky

This is the same care approach and adaptations the caregiver would implement to enable a person in the moderate/severe stages of Alzheimer’s/dementia brush their teeth successfully. In summary, while acknowledging and honoring differences between adults/elders and children, we can apply many child care strategies to Alzheimer’s/dementia care.

3. Accept what is, celebrate the moments, and know that you are making a difference

Often, caregivers struggle to find the value and meaning of their interactions, care, and relationship. I believe this is so often the case because caregivers focus too much on what has been lost to the disease instead of what remains. In other words, if the person with Alzheimer’s/dementia is not able to communicate “normally,” can’t remember what happened an hour ago, or can’t engage in activity as they once could, then the caregivers struggle to find the purpose and value of the interaction or activity. Again, we should take a page out of the child care playbook. Even though an infant or toddler has very poor memory and communication ability, and is very dependent, we view these children in a positive light and find the moments with them very meaningful and important. Even though a young child is filled with infinite potential and an elder with dementia is in the midst of decline, it shouldn’t diminish the immense importance of the activity and interaction with the elder. The situation is essentially the same, but it is our belief and perspective that is the real difference.

Of course, we must always remember that a family member bears a burden of having a history with their loved one with Alzheimer’s/dementia and is likely in a process of grieving “the loss” and change. Therefore, even with the help of a dementia capable care team, it may take some time before a family caregiver can move through the stages of grief to acceptance. But, the professional caregiver has the unique advantage of “lack of history” and therefore enters the person’s life completely in the moment, free of emotional baggage, and therefore is very capable of creating and celebrating meaningful moments, without harking back on what used to be.

A positive, in-the-moment perspective must envelop every care situation. Examples:

  • It is true a person with Alzheimer’s/dementia may reach a dementia stage in which they don’t remember visitors, but it doesn’t mean the moments spent during the visit weren’t special and therefore valuable to creating quality of life.

  • It is true that at some point a person with Alzheimer’s/ dementia may not be able to play a dice game with the same skill and expertise they once had, but it doesn’t mean they wouldn’t enjoy sitting at a table hearing the familiar sound of the dice rolling, or throwing the dice while others clap and encourage. It is the social and activity experience that matters, not winning the game.

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