Responsibilities of Alzheimer’s Family Caregivers
The responsibilities of Alzheimer’s family caregivers is enormous. Is it no wonder that the #1 complaint of caregivers is stress? Many of these responsibilities overlap a bit into other areas, but I wanted to give you something to work with. Depending on where you’re currently at in your journey with your loved one, you’ll take something different away from this article.
Knowing what lies ahead in your journey as a family caregiver will help you prepare and plan for when things get more difficult. This is better than being surprised by having to make yet another change in how you manage your responsibilities. What I mean is, some parts of these responsibilities won’t come into play until closer to the end of your journey, while others are applicable from the start.
Safety of your loved one should be at the forefront of every decision you make as a caregiver. You want to be sure, for example that the home environment is a safe one. Make sure the areas your loved one spends their time in from day to day is well-lit, is free of things that might cause them to trip and fall. The bathroom should be easily accessed and have grab bars installed in the bathing area. Their clothing should be appropriate for the weather and season. Remove sharp objects such as scissors and knives from their possession, when appropriate.
When your loved one behaves more like a toddler than an adult it’s time to reassess your safety plan.
Since those with Alzheimer’s tend to like to wander, installing dead bolt locks that are keyed on both sides on exterior doors will provide peace of mind. I kept the keys on my person at all times, in case of an emergency.
Know where your loved one is at all times.
This becomes more challenging when you take them out on outings. My mom liked to follow behind me. I’d turn around and she was no where to be found. I corrected this by holding her hand, or walking beside her with my arm looped through hers. When we went to the grocery store, I gave her charge of pushing the cart. It kept her by my side, and gave her the feeling that she was helping me; something she always was eager to do.
The health of your loved one is now entirely your responsibility. This includes making doctor’s appointments and taking them to their doctor’s appointments. Be sure you go in with them when they are examined by their doctor. Ask their doctor questions, when you have them. It also includes managing their medications and keeping those medications out of sight; just like you would do with a child.
Observe them daily and assess their health.
If they have high blood pressure, you might want to make it a part of your daily routine to take their blood pressure. Ask them how they are feeling. Take note of any areas on their body that appear abnormal.
Mom picked at her skin all the time, even to the point where she would bleed. This was something my mom did daily. She wanted her skin to feel absolutely smooth to the touch and would seek out areas that were not and pick until it would bleed.
On one occasion, she picked at an old mosquito bite on her shin. She picked off the scab several times a day for a couple months until it became infected. It had to be treated with prescription anti-bacterial ointment. Her doctor told me that over the counter anti-bacterial ointments would not have helped.
What your loved one eats is entirely up to you.
Provide them with the healthiest diet you can. Keep sugary sweets out of sight and offer them only on special occasions. It is not unusual for someone with Alzheimer’s disease to nearly empty a cookie jar in just a few days. This is because they can’t remember that they already had a cookie and will keep returning to it over and over again.
Provide opportunities for them to get exercise. My mom liked to take a walk around the yard after lunch. Sometimes I would walk with her, and other times I would allow her to take a walk alone. I kept watch from my front porch to make sure she stayed in the yard.
Personal Hygiene Responsibilities of Alzheimer’s Family Caregivers
This includes bathing, brushing teeth, hair cuts, finger nail and toe nail cutting, lotion for skin care and assistance in using the bathroom during the later stages of the disease. Keep in mind, as the disease progresses, you will be responsible to ensure all of these personal hygiene tasks are taken care of for your loved one. Since my mom liked to pick at her skin, keeping lotion on her was extremely important.
Make sure that all the items needed for personal hygiene are available in the location they are used.
My mom was in a state of thinking she was moving, so she would pack her toothbrush away daily. I would have to go find it and return it to the bathroom. I learned that by keeping the shampoo, body wash and soap that were normally kept in the shower, in an adjoining room until shower day, kept me from having to hunt those items down every day.
When mom got to the later stages of Alzheimer’s, I assisted her when she used the toilet. I had to wipe her, as she no longer could reach around to wipe herself after a bowel movement. Instead, she was wiping herself from the front. That probably is what caused the urinary tract infection that ultimately ended her life.
Emotional Well-Being Responsibilities
I want to start by saying that your loved one’s happiness is not 100% your responsibility. They are going to have good and bad days; not unlike most of us. However, there are things you can do to help their emotional well-being.
Make a point to have a conversation with them – let them talk. It’s not about whether they say the right thing, or correcting them when they get something wrong. It’s the time spent with them that counts. Make them laugh; tell a funny story, ask about something from their childhood (even if you’ve heard the story a thousand times already).
Give them a hug and let them know you love them.
Yeah, they might be driving you crazy, but it’s not their fault. Put your arm around them and tell them you love them. There will come a time when you will wish you did this more, trust me.
Take them on outings – to the park, to the grocery store, a restaurant, or to events such as festivals. Anyplace they would enjoy and you can keep them close to you at all times. Avoid crowded areas, though.
Encourage activities they enjoy.
For my mom it was sewing at the beginning, then embroidery. Then for the last few years of her life, she spent a lot of time coloring in coloring books.
Give them something to do to “help you”, such as folding a laundry basket of towels. They won’t know when you give them the same towels again to be “folded”, that they just folded those towels. This makes them feel like they have a purpose, which goes a long ways to improving their emotional well-being.
Healthy Diet Responsibilities of Alzheimer’s Family Caregivers
This is probably an obvious responsibility, but it certainly belongs in this list. It includes meal planning, meal preparation, encouraging water consumption, providing lots of fresh vegetables and fruits, and keeping the sweets to just on special occasions.
Water is essential to keeping them well-hydrated
When I first started taking care of my parents, I established that the beverage for lunch and supper would be water. They didn’t like it too much at first, but my dad eventually told me that he kinda liked having water with his meals. He had gotten used to it. The elderly in general don’t drink enough water, so this is an important part of taking care of your loved one to ensure that they don’t get dehydrated and to perhaps help keep the urinary tract infections to a minimum.
This includes paying for doctor’s visits, their part of the hospital bill not covered by insurance, making sure they have the right insurance coverage and paying the premiums. You’re also responsible for paying for their dental visits, medications, glasses, hearing aids, walkers, wheel chairs, shower chair, and other devices that a co-pay or out of pocket expense is incurred.
You’re also responsible for paying for housing, clothing and food, as well as any incidentals they need for activities they enjoy.
Clothing Responsibilities of Alzheimer’s Family Caregivers
The clothing responsibilities of Alzheimer’s Family Caregiver will change over time as your loved one’s disease progresses. In the beginning of my journey, I only kept clothing in the closet that was seasonally appropriate.
As mom’s Alzheimer’s disease progressed, I moved all of her clothing out of her bedroom. I kept them stored in the laundry room. I’d recommend a garment rack with a cover, so the items inside can not be seen.
You most likely are taking care of all of their laundry needs, as well.
When mom took her showers, I would wait for her to get into the shower before I would remove the dirty clothes. I’d then lay out the clean clothes for her. This kept her from claiming she took a shower when it was clear she didn’t because her hair wasn’t even wet!
When mom had accidents and soiled her clothing, having her clothes nearby saved me time and the hassle of entering her bedroom during the day to retrieve clean clothes for her.
Self Care Responsibilities of Alzheimer’s Family Caregiver
Based on the enormous list above, is it any wonder you feel stressed and overwhelmed pretty much all the time? Now that I’ve covered your responsibilities to them as a family caregiver, I want to talk about perhaps your most important responsibility: taking care of you.
It may go against your nature, to deny yourself in order to do for your loved one.
There’s a reason why on an airplane they instruct parents to put the oxygen mask on themselves first, and then assisting their children with their masks. They know that those with children by nature are going to take care of their loved one first, and leave themselves for last.
My advice is to take the very best care of you.
That way you can be at your best to take care of them. This includes eating healthy, getting plenty of sleep, exercise and taking time to meditate or pray on a daily basis. Respite care is also highly recommended. It does take some time to arrange for it, but it definitely helps you by giving you time to yourself to rejuvenate and re-energize.
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Another by-product of stress is wrinkles. I’d look in the mirror and could see that I had aged a lot. Stress causes wrinkles, among other health issues that age you faster than if you were not a family caregiver.
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I hope you’ve found this information about the responsibilities of Alzheimer’s Family Caregivers helpful for planning what’s ahead in your journey.