Living with Alzheimer’s Disease

ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE is caused by the destruction of nerve cells in the brain and typically appears in middle to late life. The disease is a slowly progressing form of dementia, and the rate of progression varies in each case. People with Alzheimer’s disease experience memory loss; language problems; and changes in decision-making ability, judgment, and personality.

Early symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease include frequently repeating statements, misplacing items, difficulty finding names for familiar objects, getting lost on familiar routes, and changes in personality and emotional responses. In the middle stages, those with Alzheimer’s disease forget basic information about the world, such as how to use common objects or how to get from point A to point B. In the later stages, skills like dressing, bathing, and reading become more challenging, and in the final stages the person returns to the functioning level of an infant.

Occupational Therapy practitioners help people with Alzheimer’s disease and their caregivers to live life to its fullest by adapting the environment and focusing on what they can do to maximize engagement in activity (occupation), promote safety, and enhance quality of life. The following tips are from occupational therapy practitioners working with people with Alzheimer’s disease.

If you would like to: Try these activity tips: An Occupational Therapy practitioner offers expertise to:

Help the person be more independent.

In the middle stages, large, clearly written signs with step-by-step directions can help with basic tasks like microwave a frozen meal or get dressed. The person is likely to need instructions repeated many times. Patience is key.

Observe the person at home and recommend changes to make it easier to do things more independently, such as create new routines, modify existing routines, or add adaptive equipment. The Occupational Therapist can also determine if the person responds better to certain types of cueing and other communication strategies, and work with you to use those strategies.

Keep the person safe.

Remove any possible access to dangerous items, such as flammable liquids, stairwells, and medications; remove control knobs on potentially dangerous appliances such as the stove; and provide supervision while preparing meals.

Work with you to create a safety plan based on the needs of you, the person, and other caregivers. For example, the Occupational Therapist may determine how the person will safely obtain meals when no one is available to help in the kitchen.

Prevent a fall or other injury.

Remove or secure throw rugs and clutter. Do not rearrange furniture. Ensure there is good lighting in pathways.

Complete a home safety evaluation.

Recommendations might include adding safety equipment, such as bathroom grab bars or railings, or modifying a workspace so the person can do activities while seated.

Prevent and prepare for wandering.

Sometimes people with Alzheimer’s disease pay attention to simple signs such as “stop” on the door. You can also track them with a GPS locator and add deadbolts to doors and windows.

Modify activities the person once enjoyed to provide mental stimulation during times when wandering may be a concern.

Maintain an emotional connection.

Revive shared interests through photos and memories. Long-term memory is usually better than short-term memory. Encourage the person to share his or her life story with you.

Come up with activities that you and the person can do together. Teach you strategies to effectively manage difficult or uncommon behavior (e.g., the person thinks you are someone else, is dressing inappropriately, cries easily, etc.).

Have some time to yourself.

Caregiving is a rewarding but stressful job. Schedule time for yourself even if it’s only for short periods. Remember, you need to take care of yourself first, in order to care for someone else. Ask for assistance from those you know or call your local Area Agency on Aging.

Improve quality of life. According to research, Occupational Therapy can be more powerful than medication in helping people function with Alzheimer’s disease while concurrently reducing caregiver burden.

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Need More Information?

Occupational therapy for Alzheimer’s disease is covered under Medicare and many other payers. OT can take place at home or in a premier therapy facility. Ask your physician for a referral or directly contact an occupational therapist in private practice that specializes or has expertise in working with Alzheimer’s disease.

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