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Promoting Independence After an Alzheimer’s Diagnosis

People with Alzheimer’s disease have varying abilities and challenges. It’s complicated for individuals and caregivers to find the right balance between allowing self-reliance and creating excessive dependency. Although unintentional, too much care may negatively impact those with Alzheimer’s. They can become overly dependent and withdrawn from daily activities, causing their sense of self-sufficiency to diminish. 

Fostering independence can increase your loved one’s ability to function and boost their confidence. It may also decrease stress for caregivers.  Here are some tips to guide you.

Recognize Individual Strengths 

It’s important to recognize the unique abilities that your loved one has and base your caregiving habits around their personal strengths. It’s hard to gauge what they are capable of and where they need support. For example, if they’re no longer able to cook, but they want to be involved in meal prep, have them set the table and assist with simpler tasks, like making fruit bowls or chips and dip. If they are capable of dressing themselves but struggle with shoelaces, consider using slip-on shoes. Wherever possible, meet them where they are capable.

Adapt your Home

For people with dementia, familiar environments help them connect with the past and maintain a sense of who they are. To make your home safer or “dementia-friendly” strike a balance between safety and independence. Make a checklist of safety issues and take time to walk through each section of your house considering the risk factors that occur with dementia: decreased balance and reaction time; visual-perceptual problems and other physical limitations. 

– Are the rugs secure? 

– Do the stairways need specific safety equipment installed such as banisters and handrails?

– Should I lower the water temperature?

– Should I consider buying safety equipment like an electric kettle with an automated shut-off feature?

– Remove locks from bedrooms and bathrooms and use safety locks to secure other areas.

– Make sure living areas are well lit.

– Consider registering with a safety alert or Medic Alert safety program.

Although unintentional, too much care may negatively impact those with Alzheimer’s.

Use Technology to Help

Assistive technology includes devices or systems that help support or improve a person’s ability to complete everyday tasks. For example, this helpful tool will remind the user with routine medication alerts once a schedule is entered into a smartphone calendar app. There are also video conferencing capabilities that make staying in touch with family and friends at a distance possible.

Whatever technology you choose, make sure that you and your loved one are comfortable with it. Consider what you need and what you feel you can manage. 

Determining when living alone is no longer safe or desirable 

Helping a loved one experiencing cognitive decline becomes progressively difficult. When people with dementia no longer understand their own safety and can’t look after themselves, family members and health-care professionals need to weigh the risks of living alone against the safety of full-time care. In many families, caregiving falls to one person. Whenever possible and early-on, include family members in conversations to determine the best way for each person to help now and in the future.