Alzheimer's disease causes more than memory loss. Patients develop visual agnosia, the inability to identify objects and people. They develop auditory agnosia, the inability to process sounds, and other agnosias as well. These mental failures are painful to witness.
You can't change the diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease, but you can create a safe and soothing place for your loved one.
Perhaps your loved one has moved in with you. Even if your loved one is in a nursing home you may influence – and perhaps change – the living space to meet his or her needs. These action steps are a starting place. As your loved one's disease progresses you will think of other ways to help.
1. REMOVE CLUTTER. Too much clutter is upsetting and makes it harder for your loved one to find things. Clear off the bureau, bedside table, and other surfaces. You may wish to buy open boxes for storage. I bought a bathroom shelf for my mother, the kind that goes above the toilet and is held in place with springs. Open shelving made it easier for her to store and find things.
2. CLEAR PATHWAYS. Remove scatter rugs and make sure there are no doorway obstructions. Shorten or wind up long electrical cords that could trip your loved one. Move furniture away from the middle of the room if your loved one uses a walker.
3. ARRANGE FURNITURE. The furniture arrangement depends on the degree of your loved one's dementia. Plan the arrangement on paper first. I arranged the furniture in my mother's studio apartment. The couch was across from her bookshelf, which held Mom's "treasures." Her small eating table and chairs were in front of the window so she could enjoy the view. After you have arranged the furniture leave it in place.
4. USE VISUAL CLUES. The Canadian Government, in an Internet article called "At Home With Alzheimer's Disease," says you should "mark the door of the AD person's apartment in a very distinct way, perhaps with a photograph, a wreath, or a flag of some sort. " I hung a heart wreath on the door of my mother's apartment. Thanks to the wreath, Mom always knew which door was hers. Experiment with other visual clues, such as a picture of socks on the front of a sock drawer.
5. INCLUDE FAMILIAR THINGS. "Alzheimer's: Soothing the Transition on Moving Day," an article on http://www.MayoClinic.com , says it's important for the Alzheimer's patient to have some familiar things. "Familiar belongings can trigger feelings of ownership and boost your loved one's sense of security," the article notes. My mother felt secure in her studio apartment because she had her own bedroom furniture, eating table, and favorite chair.
6. CHOOSE CALM COLORS. Nancy L Mace and Peter V. Rabins, MD, authors of "The 36-Hour Day," say "brain impaired people may be less able to distinguish between similar color intensities." Your loved one may not be able to tell the difference between light blue and light green, for example. Bright colors may be upsetting. That's why The Greater Illinois chapter of the Alzheimer's Association recommends "soothing pastel shades such as peach, pink, beige, ivory, light blues, greens and lavenders."
7. MARK SPACE WITH COLOR. The contrast between light walls and dark hand rails will help your loved one to distinguish space. The authors of "The 36-Hour Day" suggest painting stair risers and treads in contrasting colors. Mace and Rabins also say you should "outline doors, mantlepieces, and other things the person bumps into with bright tape in a contrasting color and color intensity."
8. BE CAREFUL WITH PATTERN. "Patients with AD see and hear things that have no basis in reality," according to the Alzheimer's Disease Research Center in San Diego, CA. This point is made in an Internet story from the Greater Illinois chapter of the Alzheimer's Association. Apparently the residents of one nursing home thought the vines on the wallpaper were snakes and they kept beating the walls. At this time of life plain fabrics and wallcoverings are better choices for your loved one.
9. HAVE ENOUGH LIGHT. Accidents can happen in dimly lit areas or areas with lots of shadows. Make sure the is enough light, especially in the bathroom. Put a night light next to the bed and mark the way to the bathroom with additional night lights. "The 36-Hour Day," says putting reflectiveive tape around the bathroom door may also help your loved one at night.
10. CUT THE GLARE. Buy flat paint instead of gloss to cut down on glare. The floor should also have a non-glare surface. You may also reduce glare by hanging sheer drapes at the window and installing blinds. Use soft light bulbs in lamps. If your loved one is severely demented, close the curtains at night and cover up mirrors.
11. PREVENT WANDERING. Hang small posters on the doors to keep your loved one from wandering. You may also hang beaded curtains in open doorways. Install door and window locks in unusual and / or hidden places. The Canadian Government, in its publication "At Home With Alzheimer's Disease," recommends two locks – a chain lock and a dead bolt – on exit doors. If you have a door that opens onto a busy street hang a red STOP sign on the door.
12. ADD LIFE. A growing plant can give your loved one weeks of pleasure. Before you buy a plant, however, make sure it isn't toxic. Provide a watering can if your loved one is still able to water the plant. (Check for spills later.) Watching fish is also pleasurable for those with Alzheimer's, but if you buy fish you should care for them. Your loved one may also benefit from pet therapy.
These action steps will help your loved one to feel safer and calmer. As his or her dementia progresses you will have to take more action steps. The best action step you can take is to keep saying "I love you."
Copyright 2005 by Harriet Hodgson.