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Alzheimer's disease health centre

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Caring for someone with Alzheimer's disease

A person with Alzheimer's disease may develop problems making it hard to look after themselves.

They may need help with eating, bathing, shaving and using the toilet.

To assist with these activities, carers need knowledge, skills and patience.

Enlist the help of your loved one’s GP, who can put you in touch with the local NHS occupational therapy service. Occupational therapists are experts in helping people maintain a safe environment and can teach people with Alzheimer’s how to deal with activities of daily living.

General tips

  • Establish a routine. Schedule grooming activities for the same time and same place each day; for example, clean his or her teeth after meals, or plan baths for the mornings or evenings. Choose the most relaxed time of the day for bathing and grooming.
  • Respect the person’s privacy. Close doors and blinds. Cover the person with a towel or bathrobe.
  • Encourage the person to do as much as possible. This will help to promote a sense of independence and accomplishment.
  • Keep in mind the person’s abilities. Give him or her enough time to complete each task; for example, brushing his or her hair or teeth.
  • Give the person encouragement and support as he or she completes tasks. Acknowledge his or her efforts when completed. For example, “You did a nice job brushing your hair today.”
  • Tell the person what you are doing. For example, “I’m going to wash your hair now.”
  • If the person can dress himself or herself, lay out the clothes in the order they are to be put on. Clothing that is easy to put on, with few buttons, is best.

Eating

  • Some symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, including confusion and lack of energy, can be made worse by poor nutrition. Provide your loved one with a nutritious diet and plenty of healthy fluids, such as water or juice.
  • Encourage independent eating if your loved one is able. Consider serving finger foods that are easier for the person to handle and eat.
  • Adaptive equipment, such as plate guards or utensils with specially designed handles, is available for individuals who have difficulty holding or using them.
  • Don’t force feed. Try to encourage the person to eat, and try to find out why they don’t want to eat. Always remember to treat the person as an adult, not a child.

Bathing

  • A complete bath may not be needed every day. A sponge bath may be enough.
  • Always check the temperature of the water in the bath or shower.
  • If bathing in the bath, try using a bath chair with handrails. Also, place rubber mats in the bath to prevent slipping.
  • Make sure the bathroom is warm and well-lit.
  • Remove or secure small rugs to prevent falls in the bathroom.
  • If the person is heavy or can offer little help, special equipment may be needed. Your doctor or an occupational therapist can give you advice on how to safely bathe your loved one.
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