SIMPLIFYING PERSONAL CARE ROUTINES FOR PEOPLE WITH MEMORY LOSS
As memory loss progresses it becomes increasingly difficult for older adults to manage many personal care activities. It takes longer for them to get dressed, take a bath, use the toilet, and eat a meal. Busy caregivers sometimes decide that it's easier and faster to take over personal care tasks themselves. As a result their parent gradually loses some of her independence and ability to manage her own care.
Your parent may feel more secure when he or she knows what the day's activities will be. A daily schedule of routines, appointments, and activities that can be broken down into easy-to-follow, easy-to-remember steps provide structure to your relative's day. Post a list the day's events on the refrigerator or other easy-to-spot space and at breakfast remind your older relative of any events or appointments scheduled for the day.
People with memory loss often have trouble making decisions about what to wear. They may choose a warm winter sweater to wear in August, shorts in December, a party dress to a picnic or a sweatshirt to a wedding.
Choose comfortable clothes that fit well, and are easy to put on and remove to
make using the bathroom easy.
To prevent poor choices keep only a few seasonal outfits in his or her closet or dresser. Buttons and zippers are often hard to manipulate for people with memory loss so choose clothes that fasten with Velcro, pullover tops and elastic waistbands.
BATHS & SHOWERS
Choose a day and time for bathing each week and ask your parent if she prefers a bath or shower. Have soap, shampoo, clean towels, washcloths, and a hand-held shower attachment ready for use. Remind her to wash all parts of her body.
Prevent falls or other bathroom accidents by installing grab bars in the bathtub and shower and faucets that are easy to grasp. Use rubber-backed rugs or bathmats to prevent falls. Keep the hot water temperature at 120 degrees or lower to avoid accidental scalds. Don't leave your parent alone in the bath or shower.
ORAL CARE ROUTINES
Many people with memory disorders forget how to care for their teeth so it 's up to you to help them manage daily mouth care.
- Give your relative step-by-step instructions one at a time: "Hold your toothbrush." "Put toothpaste on the brush." "Brush your teeth."
- Take your time. Wait until your parent completes each step before moving on to the next one.
- Make tooth care part of your parent's daily routine. Brush teeth at the same time every day. Clean dentures every night.
- Ask your dentist for tips to make tooth care easier.
- Check your relative's mouth regularly for changes in teeth, tongue or gums.
- Continue regular dental check-ups as long as possible. Look for a dentist with experience in treating patients with memory loss.
Older adults with memory disorders may also have poor appetites and prefer to snack instead of eating a meal. Stock your cupboard and refrigerator with lots of healthy, ready-to-eat treats and offer them to your parent throughout the day:
- Snack packs of pudding, jello, yogurt, cottage cheese, applesauce, canned fruit.
- Single serving cans of fruit or vegetable juice.
- Cheese and crackers with fresh fruit.
- Ice cream bars and popsicles.
- Cut up raw vegetables with low-fat dip.
NAPTIME & BEDTIME
Older people often don't need as much rest. However if your family member suffers from occasional insomnia here are some ways to help him to get a good night's rest:
- If he or she gets sleepy watching TV or reading, schedule a visit with the eye doctor. Your relative may need new glasses.
- Encourage your family member to get up and go to bed at the same time each day.
- If your relative isn't active during the day he or she is probably not in need of much sleep at night. An afternoon walk around the block may help your parent doze off. Gentle stretching exercises at bedtime also promote relaxation and sleep.
- A void daytime naps.
- Stick to a daily schedule. While your relative was working or raising a family he
or she got up and went to bed at the same time every day. The body gets used to
routines and still needs them even in later life.
A good night's sleep is important for people of all ages. Some simple changes in your older relative's daily routines and habits will improve his or her sleep quality and quality of life.
MAKE THE BATHROOM EASY TO FIND
Loss of bladder control is common in older adults with Alzheimer' s disease and other memory disorders. It can be caused by a memory loss and a variety of health conditions including:
- Urinary tract infections
- Enlarged prostate gland
- Parkinson's disease
- Physical disabilities that make it difficult to get to a bathroom
- Medications and beverages containing caffeine that increase urine output
Bladder control "accidents" occur if an older person can't find the bathroom or get to it in time to prevent an "accident". People in the early stages of memory loss usually just need a reminder especially at bedtime — to use the toilet to avoid an "accident." Those in the later stages may require reminders to go to the bathroom throughout the day. Limit fluids before bedtime to prevent nighttime incontinence — especially coffee, tea, cola and other beverages that contain caffeine.
Keep the bathroom door open or put a picture of a toilet on the door. Install a night light to help your relative find the toilet at night.
SCHEDULE FUN ROUTINES
Memory loss can be sad and depressing for both the person with a failing memory and those who care for him or her. To boost your spirits:
- Take a stroll around your neighborhood and admire the houses and gardens.
- Visit the mall and window-shop. Stop for ice cream on the way home
- Rent a favorite movie and make popcorn
- Get out your family's photo albums. Ask your parent to identify people in the photos
- Play cards or checkers and see who wins the most games
- Bake cookies and share them with neighbors
TAKE PRIDE IN CAREGIVING
As a caregiver you can take great pride in creating a homey environment and activities for a family member with memory loss. Your creative efforts on your parent's behalf will help him or her remain safe, healthy and contented even though he faces the challenges of a failing memory each day. [1075/611 0]
A version of this article appeared in the Private Health News.