5 tips – Caring for a relative with Alzheimer’s

Dr. Pia Kontos, University of Toronto and Toronto Rehab

Caring for a relative with Alzheimer’s or a related dementia can be more than overwhelming. Dr. Pia Kontos, a CIHR-funded researcher, shares useful advice that is based on her research work.

Dr. Kontos is a Scientist at Toronto Rehab and an Assistant Professor at the University of Toronto. Her research program focuses on the improvement of person-centred care in the clinical areas of dementia and brain injury. She holds a PhD in Public Health Sciences from the University of Toronto.

1. Even when your family member can't speak, meaningful communication is possible

We often assume that when people are non-verbal that they are incapable of expressing themselves. But we found that people with dementia continue to express dislikes through grimacing, restlessness or pushing away undesired food. At the same time, people with Alzheimer's became calm when provided with food or activities that they liked, such as a cup of tea or painting.

2. Knowing about culture, previous occupation or life long hobbies is important

Biographical information can provide really helpful insight into what your relative may enjoy eating, doing or celebrating. Recalling what they used to like can help you find activities they will still enjoy now.

3. Family members are an important member of the health care team

If your relative is in a long-term care facility, share your knowledge with his or her care providers. Your knowledge of your family member's likes and dislikes, their cultural background and their favourite hobbies are very important pieces of information for health care staff to know so that they can individualize the care provided.

4. Slow down

Sometimes to save time we do activities for our relatives rather than letting them do it themselves. Or we underestimate the time it takes to help someone else dress, wash or feed themselves, and we rush through the tasks. But slowing down and taking a few extra minutes will help you both remain calm.

5. Take time for yourself

Taking care of a relative is definitely a monumental task and it can easily absorb all of your time, including limiting your personal activities. However, every caregiver should take at least a few hours every week for themselves. It could mean going out with friends, participating in planned social activities, or going for a walk. If you know a caregiver, it would be a nice gesture to offer to help with some of their responsibilities occasionally. It would most likely be greatly appreciated.

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