People with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia can experience a variety of emotions that are directly attributable to their condition. These include frustration, agitation, anger, fear, confusion and depression. As a result of these feelings, they often sense an understandable loss of control, independence and self-confidence.
The Mayo Clinic suggests that if you’re caring for a loved one with a degenerative neurological disorder, you can help them cope with the disease by being there to listen, providing support, reassuring them that life can still be enjoyed, encouraging their independence, and doing your best to help them maintain their dignity and self-respect.
Encouraging Independence Improves Self-Esteem and Overall Well-Being
Ms. Shellie Kermin, Community Relations Director of North Woods Village at Edison Lakes, says, “Sometimes in their desire to be helpful, caregivers do more than they actually should and can inadvertently deny their loved ones the tasks that actually promote their independence and sense of confidence and calm. Encouraging independence can increase your loved one’s ability to function while also improving their self-confidence. Activities that promote independence in people with dementia have also been shown to lower the stress levels of their caregivers who often find themselves overburdened with their multiple roles and responsibilities.”
Research conducted by the University of Alberta in Canada concluded that making patients with Alzheimer’s overly dependent on their caregivers can make them less likely to contribute to daily activities and, in the process, diminish their sense of self-worth. According to lead researcher, Tiana Rust, when caregivers assume too many duties it can create a so-called “dependency support script” in which loved ones with Alzheimer’s are not encouraged to do things for themselves. The unintended consequence is that the loved one may feel less inclined to get involved with tasks that they are still capable of, especially in the earlier stages of the disease.
Tips to Encourage Independence in Your Loved One
Ms. Kermin adds, “Today, leading Memory Care Assisted Living communities provide a variety of proven therapies and activities designed to encourage independence and well-being in residents. Many of these can also be provided by caregivers in the home setting, especially in the early stages of the disease.”
Professional sources of research and therapeutic expertise, such as the Alzheimer’s Association, the Mayo Clinic and Dementia Today, suggest the following ways you can support your loved one’s independence at home:
Create a Safe Home Environment – You can modify the home environment to encourage and support your loved one’s independence while also assuring their safety. The article, “Home Safety Tips: Preparing for Alzheimer’s Caregiving” provides several useful tips that begin with conducting a thorough home safety assessment.
Encourage Involvement in Basic Daily Activities – Supporting your loved one’s normal activities that represent their preferred lifestyle and daily experiences are very important, as they provide a sense of usefulness, purpose, pleasure and achievement.
Promote Exercise and Physical Activity – Your loved one will be able to function at a higher level longer if they engage in activities that help maintain their strength, flexibility and balance. Encourage some form of physical activity on a daily basis, such as walking or doing safe, simple exercises.
Try “Holistic” Therapies – Activities that utilize art, music, pets, reminiscence and pleasant aromas are endorsed by the Alzheimer’s Association and have proven to help loved ones to reconnect with the happy times in their life, feel a sense of accomplishment and reduce agitation.
Support Normal Eating Routines – Assist your loved one in being as independent as possible during meals, especially during the middle and later stages of Alzheimer’s. To support their limited abilities, you can serve food in a bowl instead of on a plate, or even let them use their hands if that is easier for them. You can also serve them bite-sized foods that are easy to pick up. “No-spill” cups are also helpful.
Emphasize the Positive (i.e. focus on what they can do) – Even as Alzheimer’s progresses, there may still be some activities your loved one can continue to do on their own. Continue to encourage them even if they can only complete a part of the task by themselves.
By finding ways to safely promote independence in your loved one, you can help to improve their self-esteem, emotional state and overall well-being. Although it can be difficult to do, remember to resist the temptation to do things for your loved one that they can still perform on their own.
Help Is Available for Caregivers
Today, a variety of resources is available to assist caregivers who are caring for their loved ones at home, including Alzheimer’s Association services, support groups, self-help guides, Respite Care services, in-home support, community-based services and educational programs. Progressive residential Memory Care Communities (MCCs), such as North Woods Village at Edison Lakes, offer a variety of educational programs, support and special events designed to help family caregivers.
Guiding. Caring. Inspiring.
For caregivers who recognize that the needs of their loved one are beyond what they can safely and appropriately provide in the home environment, leading, residential Memory Care Assisted Living Communities (MCALs), such as North Woods Village at Edison Lakes and its “NEW DIRECTIONS”SM program in Mishawaka, IN, provide the full continuum of services that have been shown to improve health and well-being, support brain health and delay the progression of memory loss from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
At North Woods Village at Edison Lakes, we believe senior adults thrive in an environment that offers an active, vibrant lifestyle with a variety of activities that engage the mind, body and spirit. Our “NEW DIRECTIONS”SM provides a safe, professional environment and proven, best-practice programs and services specifically designed to address the total physical, emotional and social needs of individuals with Alzheimer’s, dementia or other serious form of memory impairment.