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management research riskfactors lifestyle Alzheimer's brainhealth

Andrew Kane

There are several tips I would give to other caregivers who want to help their loved ones with physical therapy or ensure that they do not hurt themselves unintentionally. Buy your loved one a mechanical pet or doll. Since Mom has always loved cats, we bought her a mechanical cat, which has been her lifesaver. She often tries feeding it, and the other day we noticed the cat had lipstick on it from her kisses. Place the toy in your loved one’s lap while he or she is in a wheelchair. The cat often comforts Mom, making her want to stay in the wheelchair.

Andrew Kane is a caregiver to his 86-year-old mother, Cynthia, who has Alzheimer’s disease.

I became my Mom’s caregiver about one year ago, after she moved back home to Syracuse, New York. She grew up in Syracuse and entered a memory care residence here. One day, members from the residence called to tell me that she had a stroke. After this call, our lives changed. However, I have learned a lot about Alzheimer’s and how to deal with the curveballs that it throws at us.

My Mom’s stroke primarily affected her balance. After six weeks of physical and occupational therapy, she became stronger and could walk using a walker. But in general, we want to make sure she stays in her wheelchair when others are not there to help her; otherwise, she may fall and break a bone. Her memory issues make recovery difficult, though. Usually, she cannot remember that she should stay in her wheelchair, which has affected her health care coverage. Unfortunately, Medicaid denied continued therapy coverage because of her lack of cognitive safety; in other words, since she may not remember that she should not stand up all of the time, she can’t get continued therapy coverage. She also had to leave her memory care residence because they only care for residents who can walk. 

When Mom was without therapy or a place to stay for a month while she waited to move into a different health care community, I tried to help her walk on her own so she could build her strength and balance. I visited her every morning through the afternoon so that we could walk together until I had to go to work. Each time I left, I had a pit in my stomach and worried she would fall, so I found an aide who could stay with her until I returned home from work again.

There are several tips I would give to other caregivers who want to help their loved ones with physical therapy or ensure that they don’t unintentionally hurt themselves by falling:

  • Tell your loved ones “nose before the toes,” if they have difficulty standing without losing their balance. I remind my Mom that she should place her toes underneath her before standing up, since she used to place her feet far out in front of her when trying to stand, which made her lose her balance. 
  • Buy your loved one a mechanical pet or doll. Since Mom has always loved cats, we bought her a mechanical cat, which has been her lifesaver. She often tries feeding it, and the other day we noticed the cat had lipstick on it from her kisses. Place the toy in your loved one’s lap while he or she is in a wheelchair. The cat often comforts Mom, making her want to stay in the wheelchair. Another tip I learned did not work for Mom, but may help others. Sometimes, if you put a Velcro knee brace on a patient’s knee, the patient may think he or she is injured and avoid getting up. However, this idea backfired with my Mom. Instead, she said that since she now has a support system on her knee, she can stand up.  

In addition to trying to keep Mom physically healthy, I try keeping her mind healthy, too. There are a lot of activities I believe caregivers can do with a loved one who has dementia:

  • I encourage Mom to participate in the activities and exercise classes at her residence. If possible, make exercising fun for your loved one. For example, today in exercise class, when the instructor told the residents to lift their hands up, I began tickling Mom, and she started laughing.
  • My mom’s granddaughter bought her a 30-piece personalized puzzle that featured a family photo of us all on vacation. Consider getting your loved one a similar gift. Puzzles are great for the mind because they encourage people to organize items based on color or shape. They’re also great for occupational therapy and motivate your loved one to move his or her fingers. In addition, there’s an aquarium in Mom’s residence, which she loves. If possible, consider getting fish for your loved one. We often stop by the aquarium for 15 minutes to discuss the different fish and to keep her mind busy.

Something else I believe may help caregivers is telling white lies , or fibbing in circumstances where you believe the truth may be more harmful to your loved one:

  • If a loved one with Alzheimer’s asks about another loved one who passed away, consider fibbing depending on the circumstance. My father passed away eight years ago, but sometimes, Mom asks where he is. Examine the person’s facial expressions and the confidence level in your loved one’s voice when he or she asks you a similar question. When Mom seems genuinely unsure of where Dad is, I tell her he’s out golfing or skiing to avoid causing her more pain. However, if I can tell she is aware he may have passed away, I try being honest to avoid upsetting her further by not telling the truth. 
  • I try to make sure that each move does not affect Mom too much. Before she moved to her new residence, I took photos of the items on the wall at the old residence and set up the room the exact same way. This practice may help your loved one so that he or she does not become more confused or upset after a move. 

Although this experience has been difficult, Mom is a happy person, and even after having to move five times in one year, she laughs more than anything else.

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