If your loved one has Alzheimer’s, he or she will need a caregiver to help with activities of daily living, manage medications, and more. Before stepping into the role, you’ll need to undergo training.
Find out why caregiver training is important. Also, learn about the stages of Alzheimer’s and what skills and tools you’ll need as a caregiver. Finally, go over the best Alzheimer’s training programs for caregivers.
The Importance of Training for Caregivers of Alzheimer’s Patients
Caring for patients with Alzheimer’s poses challenges that you won’t find in other caregiving situations. You’ll need to understand how the disease progresses, the risks your loved one faces, and how to help with daily living activities.
You cannot use the same strategies you would for other diseases or situations. For example, bathing a patient with mobility issues isn’t the same as cleaning someone who has Alzheimer’s. If you fail to use a strategy designed for Alzheimer’s care, your loved one could become agitated and frightened and might get hurt.
When you go through the training, you’ll learn about the three stages of Alzheimer’s and how to provide care during each stage. Let’s go over this briefly, so you’ll have a better understanding when you start caregiver training.
Understanding the Three Stages of Alzheimer’s
Alzheimer’s is a slow-progressing disease, with most patients moving through three general stages. As a caregiver, you need to know what the stages are and what to expect during each one. That will allow you to provide the best care possible to the patient.
Early Stage of Alzheimer’s
The early stage of Alzheimer’s is often referred to as “mild.” During the early stage, people often experience memory lapses, but they can still live independently. It’s not unusual for people in the early stage of Alzheimer’s to continue to shop, drive, engage in social activities, and more.
If you think that your loved one is in the early stage of Alzheimer’s, look for the signs. Some common signs include:
· Trouble thinking of names and words
· Difficulty recalling new names and newly acquired information
· Organization and planning issues
· Losing items of value
Because people are still functional during the early stage, friends and family members might not realize something is amiss. However, spouses often notice some changes.
If your loved one is showing signs of the early stage of Alzheimer’s, you can take him or her to a medical professional for a diagnosis. Then, if he or she is diagnosed, remember that this is the early stage, and the disease generally progresses slowly.
Many caregivers talk about how the early stage is the time to live life to the fullest. Think of the things you want to do and seize the moment. You still have time to live life and enjoy your time together.
At the same time, you don’t want to ignore the diagnosis. Take some time to get your loved one’s affairs in order and discuss long-term care needs. If you are going to serve as the caregiver, you will need to go through Alzheimer’s caregiver training to develop the skills necessary.
Middle Stage of Alzheimer’s
During the middle stage of Alzheimer’s, people begin to display moderate symptoms. Your loved one will have problems performing some tasks and expressing thoughts and will require help.
Common symptoms experienced during the middle stage of Alzheimer’s include:
· Forgetting personal history and events
· Problems remembering phone numbers, addresses, and the day of the week
· Wandering away and getting lost
· Problems choosing clothes
· Becoming withdrawn or agitated in challenging situations
· Compulsive, delusional, or suspicious thoughts and behavior
· Loss of bowel and bladder control
· Trouble sleeping at night
While these symptoms are pronounced, your loved one can still participate in activities. However, he or she will need some assistance.
Planning can be helpful for people who are in the middle stage of Alzheimer’s. Creating structure can help people during this stage to stay busy and engaged. You can start the day by making a list with your loved one, and then you can work through it as the day progresses.
Because items will get displaced during this stage, it’s also a good idea to get duplicates of things you use often. For instance, it’s wise to have an extra set of keys. Also, if your loved one has a favorite cup, get a second one that matches it. These are just a couple of examples of the items you should have two, or maybe even three, of at home.
You can also put pads of paper and pens or pencils around the house. Then, your loved one can jot down important thoughts without fear of forgetting them.
These strategies will allow your loved one to continue to thrive. They will alleviate the frustration that occurs after misplacing items or forgetting information. People often refer to this as meeting the disease where it is. You cannot change the diagnosis, but you can adapt your life so your loved one continues to function.
Late Stage of Alzheimer’s
The late stage of Alzheimer’s is defined as severe, and it can be difficult for caregivers to watch the decline. Your loved one won’t be able to engage in conversations or respond to the environment. Also, he or she will eventually lose the ability to control movements.
As your loved one goes through his stage, he or she will:
· Need full-time care
· Lose the ability to sit and walk
· Lose the power to swallow eventually
· Experience difficulty communicating
· Become unaware of surroundings and experiences
As the disease progresses, your loved one will also be more likely to develop infections. Pneumonia is one of the biggest threats during this stage. Because your loved one cannot handle personal care, you will need to keep his or her teeth and mouth clean to reduce the risk of infections.
As a caregiver, it’s important to understand that patients still respond to touch, sounds, and smells during this stage, even if they cannot communicate verbally. That means you can still provide comfort, even if your loved one can’t communicate.
Think about what your loved one enjoyed earlier in life before the disease took over. For example, did your loved one have a favorite song? Playing that piece of music can provide comfort, even if you don’t notice the effects.
Your loved one doesn’t have to be a music lover to connect. Maybe he or she enjoyed the smell of a particular candle or loved the feel of lotion on the skin. In these cases, the candle or the lotion can bring comfort during this difficult time.
Also, don’t forget about the power of touch. Simply holding someone’s hand during the late stage can be helpful and comforting.
Skills That a Caregiver Should Have for an Alzheimer’s Patient
If you’re thinking of caring for an Alzheimer’s patient, it’s essential to make sure you have the proper skills. These skills will ensure you can provide the best care possible to your loved one.
Your loved one can likely continue driving during the first stage of Alzheimer’s disease. However, driving will be too dangerous once he or she enters the second stage.
Because of that, a driver’s license and the vehicle will help you care for an Alzheimer’s patient. You will need to take your loved one to and from doctor’s appointments and handle the errands for the household.
Strategies to Deal with Alzheimer-related Behavior
You also need to know how to deal with Alzheimer-related behavior. This is one of the most challenging aspects of serving as a caregiver and one of the most important.
You will need a complete skill set to handle behavioral changes. This includes the ability to keep things simple. Don’t try to engage in complicated conversations that will confuse or anger the patient. Instead, focus on one thing at a time.
Setting up a daily routine will also help you manage the behavior changes. You also need to help the person feel safe and secure and manage your frustration without sharing it with the patient.
You’ll need to learn stress-management strategies, such as deep breathing, to calm yourself when you get frustrated. If you show your frustration, your loved one won’t feel safe and could become frightened.
While dealing with these behavioral changes can be challenging, you will learn strategies during training.
Patients with Alzheimer’s have trouble maintaining their households. Housecleaning, landscaping, and other tasks are often ignored.
As a caregiver, you will need to step into this role. It’s essential to maintain a tidy household for your loved one’s health and safety. Also, keeping things organized will help your loved one as the disease makes it harder to find everyday items.
Dressing Your Loved One
As the disease progresses, you will need to help your loved one get dressed. First, it’s important to understand that you shouldn’t completely take over this task if the patient can still handle some of it. You don’t want to take away the person’s autonomy until absolutely necessary.
Still, you might need to assist in picking out clothing. Alzheimer’s patients often have trouble dressing for the weather. You can pick out weather-appropriate clothes or limit clothing choices so he or she can only pick items appropriate for the season.
When you lay them out, put them in the right order, so the patient puts on the underwear first, and so on.
Over time, you will need to take over the dressing duties. Keep in mind that loose-fitting clothes are easier to get on and off.
Bathing and Grooming
Your loved one will eventually need help with bathing and grooming. You need to find the balance between providing help while still allowing your loved one to maintain his or her dignity. You can do that by only helping as needed.
Don’t take over bathing and grooming duties completely unless necessary. If your loved one can handle some of the tasks, let him or her do them.
Remember, your loved one will become confused over time and might forget who you are. This can make bathing and grooming tasks uncomfortable and frightening. You can help your loved one feel safe and secure by placing a towel over the lap or the shoulders. Then, lift the towel a bit to clean under the covered areas.
Distractions are also helpful when bathing. Come up with a topic to talk about so that your loved one won’t be so focused on the bathing activity.
It’s also wise to place a washcloth in the patient’s hand during bathing. If he or she becomes frightened, a violent outburst is possible. Holding a washcloth reduces the likelihood that your family member will strike you.
Feeding Your Loved One
As a caregiver, you’ll also be responsible for feeding your loved one. At first, your primary role will be ensuring that the patient eats a healthy, balanced diet. Eventually, though, you will need to use strategies during mealtime to help your loved one eat.
Simplify mealtimes by offering a single food at a time. For example, if you are serving chicken and green beans, serve the green beans first. Then, serve the chicken to limit confusion.
People with Alzheimer’s can have trouble distinguishing between the table, plate, and food. Use contrasting colors so each item stands out.
You want your loved one to focus on eating, so keep the dining area free of distractions. Turn off the TV and radio, and use a simple table setting without patterns.
Protecting Your Alzheimer’s Patient
When you work as a caregiver, you will need to develop strategies and obtain knowledge to keep your loved one safe. Let’s take a closer look at:
· Fall prevention strategies
· Medication management
· Emergency procedures
Fall Prevention Strategies
People with Alzheimer’s are more likely to have balance and mobility issues. They also have difficulties navigating living spaces and processing situations. When you add these issues together, it’s easy to understand why they’re at an increased risk for falls. Fortunately, you can incorporate some fall prevention strategies to protect your loved one.
Install Adequate Lighting
First, you need to ensure that the entire home has adequate lighting that’s free of shadows and glares. The right amount of lighting will make your loved one less likely to misrepresent what he or she sees.
Put nightlights up in the hallways and bedrooms and install lights in closets. Add lamps to dimly lit rooms, and make sure all the lights are bright enough. You can create a bright living space with high wattage light bulbs.
Keep the blinds or curtains open during the day to let the natural light inside. However, close them during the night to prevent glare.
Finally, install glow-in-the-dark light switches throughout the home. Your loved one will rarely encounter a dark room. However, it might happen in a time or two, and you’ll be prepared when you install these light switches. Then your loved one can quickly orient himself or herself and turn on the lights.
Add Visual Contrasts Throughout the Home
Your loved one will have difficulty separating objects that have similar colors. For instance, if the floor and the stairs both have beige carpet, your family member might not see the stairs, creating a dangerous fall risk.
You need to provide visual contrasts throughout the home. This will make it easier for your family member to identify different objects when walking through the house.
Visual contrasts should be extreme, meaning one item should be light and the other dark. Avoid patterns when creating these contrasts.
Handrails are important for keeping your loved one safe. Thus, you need to install a railing that contrasts with the surrounding area, so your loved one will know it’s there.
You also need to apply non-stick tape in a bright color to the edge of the stairs so your loved one will see each step. Check the tape often to make sure it is still intact.
Also, add tape in a contrasting color around the tub. You also want to use contrasting colors for the bathmat and the toilet seat.
The furniture and floors should also be contrasting colors. Paint the baseboards a color that contrasts with the floors and the walls.
Keep Walking Spaces Clear
Maintaining clear walking spaces is also vital for preventing falls. First, of course, you need to remove any clutter that could cause your loved one to trip and fall. Then, look for uneven flooring or ripples in the carpets and fix them. You should also avoid applying wax to the floors since the slippery surface can cause falls.
Don’t forget to clear up the spaces outside, too. Your loved one will need to go to doctor’s appointments, and you might take your family member out for some social visits. The outdoor areas should be free of clutter, and the walkways need to be even.
Make Sure the Living Area Is Accessible
You also need to address accessibility issues around the house. First, make sure that the items that your family member regularly uses are within reach. This can prevent falls related to reaching for objects.
Also, lower the bed, so your loved one can get in and out easily. You’ll also want to use a firm mattress. If your loved one sits on the edge of a soft mattress, he or she might topple out of bed.
You can also address accessibility problems with adaptive equipment. Speak to your family member’s health care provider to find out which equipment he or she needs.
Reduce the Risk of Falls in the Bathroom
Bathrooms can be hazardous for people with Alzheimer’s. You can reduce the risk of falls by adding:
· A hand-held shower
· A raised toilet seat
· Grab bars
· A non-slip bathmat
Use the Right Footwear
Finally, you need to make sure your loved one uses the right footwear to reduce the risk of falls. This can be pretty challenging. Your loved one needs shoes that are easy to get on and off, but they need to fit properly, or they’ll slip and slide, leading to falls.
Use Velcro shoes that fit properly. They should be secure and snug. Avoid buying shoes with extra-thick soles, but make sure they do have good tread. Examine the shoes regularly to ensure they meet the requirements.
Your loved one might be on a long list of medications. The medicines may be for:
· Treating Alzheimer’s
· Addressing behavior and mood changes
· Treating other medical conditions not related to Alzheimer’s
Medication management is critical. You need to make sure your loved one takes the prescribed medication at the correct times and in the recommended doses. Failure to do so could cause the disease to accelerate and lead to other health care conditions.
First, speak to your loved one’s doctor about all the medications he or she is taking. Learn about the:
· Side effects
· Positive effects
· Time of day to take the medicine
· What to do if your family member misses a dose
· Potential interactions with other medicines
In the early stage of Alzheimer’s, you can use a pillbox with an alarm to remind your loved one to take medications. As the disease progresses, though, you will need to take a hands-on approach to medication management. You’ll need to keep track of the medications and dosages and administer the pills as needed.
Giving out the pills is only one part of medication management. You also need to monitor your loved one to see how the pills are working. Look for signs of overmedication, such as increased:
· Balance issues
· Problems with motor skills
· Sleeping changes
If you notice any signs that your family member is overmedicated, reach out to his or her health care provider.
Emergency Procedures Caregivers Should Know
If you serve as a caregiver for a loved one with Alzheimer’s, you need to know some emergency procedures. Understanding these procedures will allow you to take action in an emergency.
Choking is a serious problem for people with Alzheimer’s, especially those in the last stage. Your loved one might have difficulty chewing and swallowing, which can lead to choking. Also, your family member might put too much food in their mouth at once, increasing the risk of choking.
If your loved one chokes and cannot breathe, call 911. You can then perform the Heimlich maneuver while waiting for emergency personnel to arrive.
You’ll need to:
· Stand behind your loved one
· Wrap your arms around your loved one’s waist
· Make a first with your hand and place your thumb on the upper abdomen so it rests above the belly button and below the ribcage
· Enclose the fist with the other hand and make an upward thrust into the abdomen
· Repeat until your loved one expels the food
Make sure you don’t squeeze your family member’s ribcage when performing the Heimlich maneuver.
It’s also a good idea for caregivers to know how to give basic CPR. Take a CPR class and receive certification. Then, you can provide life-saving measures if needed.
You need at least a basic understanding of first aid as well. Know how to clean cuts and scrapes and bandage them. The procedure you use will depend on the severity of the cut. After treating the cut, make an appointment with your loved one’s health care provider.
Two Best Alzheimer’s Caregiver Training Programs
Now, let’s look at two of the top Alzheimer’s caregiver training programs. Get the details on paid and free programs.
1. HealthCare Interactive – Cares Dementia Basics and Dementia Advanced Care
HealthCare Interactive allows you to take a single program for $99 or two for $159. If you only take one program, Dementia Basics will provide the groundwork you need to provide care.
This program has four modules that span four hours. The course covers:
· Introduction to dementia and person-centered care
· Understanding behavior as communication
· The CARES approach to caregiving
If you choose the bundle, add the Dementia Advanced Care course. This six-hour course has six modules that cover:
· Connecting with the patient
· Signs to help you recognize pain
· How to minimize falls
· Minimizing or eliminating restraints
Both courses include certification upon completion.
2. UCLA Alzheimer’s and Dementia Care Program
If you would like to take a free training course, check out the UCLA Alzheimer’s and Dementia Care Program. It includes a series of videos that will help you care for your loved one.
· Aggressive language and behavior
· Home safety
· Repetitive behaviors
· Sleep disturbances
This is just a sample of what you can learn about when you take these courses. You can also sign up for the free webinar series.
While you won’t receive a certification for completing this course, it will provide much-needed information. You’ll feel ready to address the challenges of caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s after watching the videos.
Prepare for Your Role As a Caregiver
Now you are ready to take the next step and prepare for your role as a caregiver. Enroll in a training program to learn the skills necessary. Then, you can provide the best possible care as a caregiver for your loved one.