How to Educate the Family About Alzheimer’s Disease

The life-altering effects of Alzheimer’s disease go far beyond the mind and body of the individual who is diagnosed. The changes in behavior, attitude and communication reach out and shock sons and daughters, spouses, grandchildren and siblings. The care for their physical and cognitive well-being weighs heavy on their family’s heart. As isolating as Alzheimer’s can be for its victims, it changes the lives of everyone involved.

So how do you prepare your family for the challenging journey of their loved one’s memory loss? How do you explain to young children why their grandpa can’t think straight, or convince long-distance siblings that Dad’s not acting like himself, that he might need professional care? The answers aren’t easy, and each family will experience Alzheimer’s differently. Though with care and patience, you can help your family through the difficult tasks of caring for your loved one, and hopefully grow stronger together through the process.

Adjusting to Your New “Normal”

Diane Reier, Lifestyle Specialist at Aspired Living® of Prospect Heights, a senior living community in Prosepect Heights, IL, helps families struggling to come to terms with their loved one’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis. “It’s often up to the primary caregiver, either a spouse or the child who lives close by, to educate the rest of the family about a loved one’s disease,” says Diane. “They’re the ones who see it firsthand. They usually become a leader in terms of providing care and sharing information about the loved one’s progression. Until the rest of the family fully understands what the implications of Alzheimer’s truly are and gets on board with their loved one’s care plan, the primary caregiver’s role can be a difficult one.

“Great care comes through full understanding, and understanding comes through knowledge. Primary caregivers who take the time to educate their families about Alzheimer’s and its stages and symptoms will be doing the best thing they can, guiding their loved ones towards acceptance of their new dynamics and responsibilities, acceptance of their new definition of ‘normal.’ Once a family reaches this point, the best collaboration of caregiving and focus for support can begin to take place.”

Advice for Educating Family Members

Not all family members will adjust to their loved one’s Alzheimer’s disease in the same way. Some may struggle to adjust, either by shying away from the loved one or denying the severity of their condition. Some may try to take over your loved one’s daily care against their wishes. If you need advice on dealing with difficult reactions, the Alzheimer’s Association has helpful guidance on their webpage, “Resolving Family Conflicts.”

To help get everyone on the same page, and enable everyone to contribute however they can to caring for your loved one, consider the following advice:

  • Share what you learn – As your loved one’s primary caregiver, you will probably be the one who knows the most about Alzheimer’s as you talk to their doctor and learn the best ways for providing daily care. Take each opportunity to find to share what you’ve learned with the rest of your family, so they can become good caregivers, too.
  • Be open and honest – Consider honesty as the best policy when it comes to sharing information with your family. While it may seem easier to sugar-coat your loved one’s condition, be completely honest about the progressive nature of Alzheimer’s and how it affects your loved one as time goes on. Keeping everyone on the same page helps them know what to expect, and they’ll be better prepared to do what’s best for your loved one.
  • Teach effective communication skills – Educate friends and family members, especially those who don’t visit often, on the best ways to communicate effectively with your loved one. Advise them to speak slowly and clearly and always make eye contact while speaking. Explain that they may have to remind your loved one of who they are.
  • Encourage positivity – The changes occurring in your loved one are likely to be upsetting and frustrating, so it’s common for those with Alzheimer’s to be easily agitated. Teach your family how to act around your loved one to create a calm atmosphere. Warn them against correcting your loved one when they make a mistake, showing impatience or doing anything that might aggravate or over-stimulate your loved one.
  • Keep visits pleasant – Schedule visits during times when your loved one is usually at their best. Help others interact with your loved one by being relaxed and encourage them to do something enjoyable together, such as looking through an old photo album, watching a favorite movie or talking a walk. Explain what your loved one is still capable of doing. If necessary, ask them to respect your loved one’s personal space and not to talk to them as if they were a child.
  • Explain Alzheimer’s to young children – As with other family members, it’s important to be honest with children about the changes Alzheimer’s will bring. Try to explain the disease as best you can in a way that’s appropriate for a child’s age, and be open to questions they might ask. Encourage them to ask questions at any time and keep the lines of communication open.
  • Tell others how they can help – If family members are willing to help with caregiving tasks, let them! Some may look for ways to help you on their own, while others may prefer you ask them for specific things. For example, ask a willing sibling to pick up your loved one’s prescriptions each week, or give them a list to go grocery shopping.

Support for Your Caregiving Journey

If you could use some support while caring for your loved one with Alzheimer’s, Aspired Living® of Prospect Heights can help. “We’re proud to be a resource for caregivers,” says Diane. “If you would like to learn more about educating your family or need help finding good sources of information, don’t hesitate to contact us. Our team is highly trained in senior health and dementia care, and we have a network of community resources to help address specialized concerns. Don’t think you have to go through your journey alone. The Aspired Living® team is here for you.”

We Would Love to Hear from You!

If you have comments or questions about our blog, we’d love to hear from you. We also welcome you to share any caregiving insights or experiences in our comments section.

Live Well. Age Well. Be Well.

Offering Independent, Assisted Living and A Knew Day Memory Support, Aspired Living® of Prospect Heights is a distinctive senior living community designed to offer seniors residing in the Chicago Northwest Suburbs area a fresh alternative to “typical” senior living communities.

Aspired Living® of Prospect Heights provides residents with the ideal balance of personalized support, dignified privacy and enhanced independence complemented by luxurious amenities and our life-enriching, award-winning VIVA!SM programming by Pathway to Living®.

Managed by Pathway to Living®, an innovator in senior living, Aspired Living® offers the choice of a private studio or a one- or two-bedroom apartment and the beauty of a brand new community, stunningly appointed and decorated for unsurpassed comfort and style by the award-winning senior living design firm, Thoma-Holec Design, Inc.

For more information, please call Diane at 847-243-6920.

Disclaimer: The articles and tip sheets on this website are offered by Aspired Living® of Prospect Heights for general informational and educational purposes and do not constitute legal or medical advice. For legal or medical advice, please contact your attorney or physician.