It’s been estimated that as many as half of all Americans ages 85 and over suffer from some form of dementia.
Yet, a significant percentage of these people can and do continue to live at home with the help of a caregiver.
Many home care agencies, in fact, train their home care workers to work with Alzheimer’s patients. Research has shown that individuals with this condition actually respond as well living at home, under the care of a trained home health aide, than being institutionalized in an assisted living facility or memory unit. After all, living at home avoids the anxiety and disorientation that can occur when a patient suffering from dementia moves to new surroundings.
Home care is a particularly effective solution during the early and middle stages of Alzheimer’s – a time when most family members come to the realization that their loved one is no longer safe living alone. Unless adult children or other relatives are prepared to serve as the primary caregivers, finding a local home care agency to provide care is often seen as the best solution. And, even if the family does assume the primary role as caregiver, a home health aide can play a huge role in offering respite care when the family caregiver goes on vacation or needs a much-needed break.
Common signs of early dementia include memory problems, particularly an ability to remember recent events; increasing confusion; reduced concentration; personality or behavior changes; apathy and withdrawal or depression; and a loss of the ability to do everyday tasks.
During this early stage, which typically can last up to four years, patients remain relatively independent and depend on home care more for companionship and some support in their daily lives. For example, they might require help with medication management, keeping appointments, eating and cooking properly, doing household chores, and/or maintaining a tidy home. The patient often requires a home health aide for no more than a few hours a day to help organize their lives and remind them of their daily obligations.
During middle-stage Alzheimer’s, which can last up to a decade from onset, dependency on the caregiver grows. In addition to memory problems that may manifest themselves in forgetting people names and faces, or getting lost in places they once knew well, they often require extra attention. Their behavior and mood may be erratic. There may be displays of aggression and uninhibitedness, and reasoning is often affected. During this stage, Alzheimer’s patients may require assistance with such activities of daily living as bathing, grooming, getting out of bed, toileting and eating. They may also need daily reminders, such as what appropriate clothing to wear. Home care agencies train their aides to keep a structured schedule for patients in order to minimize such feelings as stress and anxiety, which are common at this stage. The home health aides may now be needed on a more frequent, if not a live-in basis.
According to experts, caring for these patients may include the following:
- Setting a positive mood by always speaking in a pleasant voice and using facial expressions and physical touch to further convey the message;
- Being patient and sensitive to the patient’s cognitive needs;
- Keeping things simple, which may include providing visual cues to assist them;
- Knowing how to distract should the patient become upset;
- Always responding with affection and reassurance should the patient become confused or anxious;
- Maintaining a sense of humor (although never at the patient’s expense).
Having a loved one with dementia can certainly complicate the caregiving puzzle for many families, but home care agencies can offer a key resource.