People who have Alzheimer's disease often need help handling routine daily activities, such as bathing, dressing, eating and using the bathroom. If your loved one needs this type of care, balance his or her loss of privacy and independence with gentleness and tact.
Bathing can be a frightening, confusing experience for a person who has Alzheimer's. Having a plan can help make the experience better for both of you. Consider these tips:
- Find the right routine. Some people like showers, while others prefer tub baths. Time of day is often important as well. Experiment with morning, afternoon and evening bathing.
- Make it comfortable. Make sure the bathroom is warm, and keep towels or bath blankets handy.
- Keep it private. If your loved one is self-conscious about being naked, provide a towel for cover when he or she gets in and out of the shower or tub.
- Help your loved one feel in control. Explain each step of the bathing process to help your loved one understand what's happening.
- Be flexible. If daily bathing is traumatic, alternate showers or tub baths with sponge baths.
The physical and mental impairment of Alzheimer's can make dressing a frustrating experience. Here are some hints to help your loved one maintain his or her appearance:
- Establish a routine. Help your loved one get dressed at the same time each day.
- Limit choices. Offer no more than two clothing options each morning. Empty closets and drawers of inappropriate or rarely worn clothes that could complicate the decision.
- Provide direction. Lay out pieces of clothing in the order they should be put on — or hand out clothing one piece at a time as you provide short, simple dressing instructions.
- Be patient. Rushing the dressing process could cause anxiety.
- Consider your loved one's tastes and dislikes. Don't argue if your loved one doesn't want to wear a particular garment or chooses the same outfit repeatedly.
A person who has Alzheimer's might not remember when he or she last ate — or why it's important to eat. To ease the challenges that eating might pose:
- Eat at regular times. Don't rely on your loved one to ask for food. He or she might not respond to hunger or thirst.
- Use white dishes. Plain white dishes can make it easier for your loved one to distinguish the food from the plate. Similarly, use placemats of a contrasting color to help your loved one distinguish the plate from the table. Stick with solid colors, though. Patterned plates, bowls and linens might be confusing.
- Offer foods one at a time. If your loved one is overwhelmed by an entire plateful of food, place just one type of food at a time on the plate. You could also offer several small meals throughout the day, rather than three larger ones.
- Cut food into bite-sized portions. Finger foods are even easier — but avoid foods that can be tough to chew and swallow, such as nuts, popcorn and raw carrots.
- Limit distractions. Turn off the television, radio and telephone ringer. Put your cellphone or pager on vibrate. You might also clear the table of any unnecessary items.
- Eat together. Make meals an enjoyable social event so that your loved one looks forward to the experience.
As Alzheimer's progresses, problems with incontinence often surface. To help your loved one maintain a sense of dignity despite the loss of control:
- Make the bathroom easy to find. Post a sign on the bathroom door that says "Toilet," or post a picture of a toilet. At night, use night lights to help your loved one find the way to the bathroom.
- Be alert for signs. Restlessness or tugging on clothing might signal the need to use the toilet.
- Set a schedule. Schedule bathroom breaks every few hours, before and after meals, and before bedtime. Don't wait for your loved one to ask.
- Make clothing easy to open or remove. Replace zippers and buttons with fabric fasteners. Choose pants with elastic waists.
- Take accidents in stride. Praise toileting success — and offer reassurance when accidents happen.
Patience is key
As you help your loved one meet daily challenges, be patient and compassionate. If a certain approach stops working, don't be discouraged — and try something new. As Alzheimer's progresses, your understanding, flexibility and creativity will become invaluable.