How to Provide Alzheimer's Support From a Distance
10 Ideas to Help Provide Alzheimer's Care From Far Away
Long-distance help for someone with Alzheimer's
Whether you live across the country or across town, if you're not the one primarily responsible for the care of someone with Alzheimer's or some other form of dementia, it's easy to feel helpless or be unsure how to help. Here are some productive ideas.
Lend a supportive ear
It's simple but critical: offer emotional support to the person's primary caregiver. Caregiver stress is a constant threat. Acknowledge to him that it's a very real problem and address the issue before it morphs into burnout. Especially when the caregiver is the patient's spouse or another family member, check in regularly to see how he's feeling and to ask how you can help.
Checking in if it's a professional caregiver can likewise boost morale and help avoid a disruptive staff turnover. Listen attentively to the primary caregiver's concerns. Look for areas where you can provide practical help (such as locating a support group or relief care for him), and try not to be overly critical when evaluating the care he's providing. Remember to thank him.
Connect with the patient
Someone suffering from Alzheimer's may not always remember that you just called or visited, but your doing so anyway makes her happy in the moment and eases stress -- important to her overall well-being. Be aware that phone calls may become uncomfortable for the person, because memory loss interferes with her ability to follow conversations and she can't benefit from facial cues and other body language. Even if the person is your parent or a family member, introduce yourself clearly and avoid asking questions that might seem like memory tests: "What did you do last weekend?" It's better to give an update of what you've been up to. Ask easy yes-no questions: "Do you like your new easy chair?"
- Write letters and send cards, even if these have never been your preferred modes of communication. She'll likely find it easier to follow what you're talking about if she can review something on paper at her leisure.
- Another good way to say hello is to send photos with labels on the back that identify everyone in the picture. In addition to pictures of family members, send images of your home, your new dog, a re-covered sofa, a vacation, and other experiences that tell about your life.
Don't leave all the medical know-how to others
Even if you're not providing hands-on care, if you understand the key issues in Alzheimer's disease and its care, you can keep better track of what's going on. One of the biggest complaints of caregivers is that relatives and friends living far away have no idea how much work is involved in caring for someone with Alzheimer's, nor do they realize how many different issues there are to manage. Learn the basics about the disease's progression and manifestations.