Visiting Alzheimer’s Patients

Alzheimer’s is a uniquely nefarious disease. Unlike many other ailments that severely reduce the patient’s physical strength or limit coordination, Alzheimer’s attacks the human species first by breaking down normal mental capacity and then presiding over the gradual but fatal dismantling of physical functions. If, due to Alzheimer’s disease, your spouse, family member or close friend is now being cared for in a nursing home or specialized Alzheimer’s facility you no longer face the strain of providing round the clock care. Instead now you may find yourself wondering how to visit in ways that benefit your loved one best. As you adapt to your new role, these common sense suggestions may help you to better salvage moments of satisfaction, even joy from the time you and your loved one spend together.

1.Recognize the Finality of the Disease.

There are existing medications which when administered to Alzheimer’s patients early on in the disease have some effect in slowing its progress and research continues to hunt for a cure. Some small gains have been made which may also improve the quality of life for Alzheimer’s patients. But bluntly put, at the present moment Alzheimer’s remains a terminal disease destined to claim the life of your loved one. While this knowledge of the terminal nature of Alzheimer’s is at first shocking and certainly depressing, looked at in another way this same information can take huge amounts of pressure and guilt out of your visits. Not only did you not cause this disease, but neither you nor all the doctors in the world can fix it. Once you realize that Alzheimer’s is a problem without a medical solution you can stop worrying that your efforts will fail and you can get on with the business of being the best visitor you can be.

2. Do all you can do

Accepting the terminal nature of Alzheimer’s allows you to visit your loved one knowing that while you can’t cure them there are many things that you can do to make their days enjoyable. Take stock of the things that you and your loved one used to enjoy together and find ways to reenter your loved one’s life at those junctures. What parts of your loved one’s physical or mental capacity are still intact? Consider how these might be reinvigorated. And bring props! Maybe it’s an old photo of the two of you, a CD with a favorite song, a cookie , a bird book, or a calendar with seasonal pictures. And then of course bring the best of you – your smile, your touch, your patience, your laugh, your voice , you.

3. Go With the Flow

One way to make visiting time more pleasant is to come without an agenda. While thinking in advance about things you might do or say or share is always a good idea, riveting yourself to these intentions is a decidedly bad idea. The one thing you can be sure of when visiting an Alzheimer’s patient is that you can never really know how you will find him or her. You may want to share conversation while they are clearly involved in watching birds out the window. Or you may come prepared for a little birdwatching only to find the blinds tightly drawn against what the patient senses as too much sunshine. It’s impossible to know what to expect. So when you visit, come with as much openness as you can manage. Being open to where your loved one is, emotionally, mentally and physically and going with the flow will lessen the likelihood of frustration and impatience creeping in. A visit without the burden of having to complete a specific task or activity will be a visit to savor.

4. Benefit by the Surroundings

Getting to know the staff and the facility is an important part of making your visit beneficial for both you and the patient. Making it a regular practice to talk directly to nurses and aids may help them to understand your loved one in a more personal way. It will also give you a sense of comfort when you are away from the facility. Learning the schedule of the facility can help you to plan your visits in ways that reinforce what the staff is attempting to do and reduces the likelihood that you will plan to visit at exactly the time a bath or hairdressing is being administered. Knowing the facility also means knowing its special features. IS there a visiting room where you might go with your loved one, a porch, a veranda, a television viewing room? Learning what is available and how to access it can expand the possible ways in which you might enjoy visiting with one another.

5. Enjoy the Moment

Perhaps the clearest thing about Alzheimer’s is that we really don’t know how it will manifest itself at any particular moment. And so you are likely to find that when you least expect it , your loved one will connect with you, with something your brought with you, with something they hear or see in ways that you could never plan or orchestrate. For that reason each moment is a a potential treasure. Each moment contains the possibility of producing a lifelong memory. As difficult as it may be don’t look any further down the road than the moment you are in. There is beauty enough there for the both of you.

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