I've talked with professional and family caregivers to understand coping strategies for daily interactions. Though this topic has been well-covered by Alzheimer's and/or caregiving organizations, it takes time to absorb and incorporate into these strategies into your daily life. Hopefully something here will be epiphany-inducing.
Know what you can control. Know what you cannot control.
You cannot control what someone with Alzheimer's says or what people say to the person with Alzheimer's. As a caregiver you are trying to help facilitate happiness, interactions, conversations, life, finances, healthcare issues, etc., etc., You're worrying about potential falls, broken bones, about when (or if) X is going to happen, what people think, what your loved one understands, how they feel about changes, etc., etc., It's exhausting. And you find yourself spending a lot of time worrying about things you cannot control. I make sure all financial and healthcare issues are dealt with in a timely fashion, but for everything else, I developed a new approach: "Let's see what happens!" Deal with situations as they happen. Don't waste energy worrying about what *might* happen. Deal with what is in front of you.
You are never going to win an argument with someone with Alzheimer's.
You're discussing something trivial and your memory-impaired loved one says something that is not quite accurate. Since the caregiver is the person in charge, her natural inclination is to correct, or gently remind, the person with memory problems the truth about what was just said. The caregiver has full mental capacity. The person with memory problems knows they have memory problems. And these corrections? Well, they feel like an opportunity for an argument.
Though a caregiver might not think of the conversation as a 'disagreement' the person with memory problems might see it that way. It took me a really long time to understand *this* was an argument. As a caregiver, you do not need to remind someone of the truth. Doing so makes the conversation difficult for you and the person you are speaking with. And it erodes the confidence they have in themselves. It's best to either agree with what they are saying or divert and move on.
Why does she have to live in your reality?
A doctor said this to to me. I think everyone saw a light bulb appear over my head and turn on. You don't need to ask questions about "their reality." Questioning what the person with Alzheimer's says (or sees) may make them realize what they are saying is not true. It is best to continue the conversation, but let him or her take the lead. Someone with Alzheimer's doesn't get control things very often, so helping them obtaining control in a conversation helps. This is particularly helpful to remember when hallucinations are happening.
You can still make memories.
Yes, the person you love who has Alzheimer's is changing. They are becoming a different person. It is difficult to grasp. If you think about it, you've changed, too. Some of the changes in your life are because of Alzheimer's. Some of them aren't. Obviously the changes you are going through are not as severe but the disease still has an impact on you. Try to live in the moment and allow yourself to make new memories with your loved one. The memories will be different but can still be fun. Help them experience what they currently enjoy and remember that looking forward is a million times better than pining for what you have lost.
Know when you have time to live in the Alzheimer's world.
Those with Alzheimer's have a heightened sense of empathy. If you're upset your loved one will sense it and become upset and may not know why. As the disease progresses and language comprehension is lost, the awareness of non-verbal communications increases. Happiness, tension, anger, sorrow, joy and peace are all transferable.
If you're loved one is living elsewhere, don't go to visit unless you can participate in a relaxed visit. If you are living in the same home, you must find a way to have long, recurring breaks so you have time to catch your breath, regroup and be you. Otherwise the Alzheimer's burden will weigh so heavily on you that both of you will feel it.
You have patience for them, why not me?
At times I've found I can have infinite patience for my loved one with Alzheimer's, but a short fuse for those who are helping. For me, I was dedicating so much time helping I needed the time I was spent away from my loved on with Alzheimer's to be super efficient. That meant I could be pretty difficult to deal with. Remembering to take time for myself helped fix that problem. I created goals for caregiving and when I accomplished those tasks, I did something to better myself. This has made me a lot happier - and therefore a lot more willing to help. And those people who are helping? Well, I really need them so it doesn't do any good to piss them off. :)
In parting, caregiving is an act of trial and error, but it is also an art. Remember that if you are happy, the person you are caring for is much more likely to be happy. And then you stay happy and then they stay happy. And so on and so on.
If you are a caregiver, I would love to hear some of your coping strategies. A big thank you to Todd Coats, various doctors and assisted living personnel who helped me develop these coping strategies (which were developed after hours and hours of conversations with others).