There are an estimated 5.7 million people living with Alzheimer’s disease in the US today. The number of people who have to watch a loved one deal with Alzheimer’s, though, is far higher.
When we talk about the impact of Alzheimer’s disease, we can’t limit it to its effect on patients themselves. It also impacts everyone who knows and loves the patient, from spouses to friends.
To help you in your journey of coping with Alzheimer’s family members, here’s a look into the social issues you can expect to encounter.
Coping with Alzheimer’s Family Members: Social Problems to Expect
Maintaining a relationship with a loved one who has Alzheimer’s disease can be a challenge, but preparing yourself ahead of time may help. Here’s a look at what you might encounter and what you can do to help.
Role Changes in Relationships
One of the first and most prominent ways Alzheimer’s affects relationships is by changing the roles. Someone who was once a caregiver and a nurturer may become the one who needs nurturing overnight.
This can be particularly difficult for a patient’s spouse. A marriage that was once a partnership with a balance of strengths may become a one-sided dependence.
This can be difficult on a practical level as well. For a household that divides the home maintenance tasks, other family members will need to pick up responsibilities that the Alzheimer’s patient can no longer uphold.
This is why it’s important for family members and friends of Alzheimer’s patients to have their own support systems. On top of emotional support, you may also need someone to help you around the house.
Fewer Social Invitations
Another common problem for people with Alzheimer’s disease is that they tend to become socially isolated.
Friends and family members may pull away and spend less time with the patient for a few reasons. They may find it emotionally difficult to see their loved one declining, so they avoid them instead.
In other cases, loved ones find it draining to spend time with the patient. It’s exhausting to repeat the same things over and over or to offer frequent reminders. It’s also common to see personality changes in Alzheimer’s patients that loved ones find unpleasant.
This social isolation can lead to many problems. For starters, it can increase the patient’s depression. At the same time, it builds resentment in the caregivers who feel their loved ones are abandoning the patient.
You can help with this issue by simply spending more time with your loved one who has Alzheimer’s disease. You can also organize some social gatherings of your own.
As a person declines with Alzheimer’s disease, they often struggle to communicate. They may have trouble finding the words to say what they want to say. They might also lose their ability to pick up on nonverbal cues.
If your loved one has Alzheimer’s disease, the best thing you can do is to be understanding. If you have a conflict with them, step up and be the one to initiate the conversation. Recognize that you might have to communicate better to maintain the relationship.
Another important way to help is to listen. Many times, patients are aware that they can’t communicate well and they’re afraid of losing their relationships. Listen to them, pay close attention, and try your best to understand what they’re saying.
Inappropriate Words or Actions
As a person’s Alzheimer’s symptoms worsen, they may start to say or do things that aren’t appropriate. There are plenty of explanations for this.
In some cases, the patient forgets where they are and say something that isn’t appropriate for the situation. In other cases, they may not realize how hurtful their words are. They might even use the wrong word, which can change a harmless statement into a hurtful one.
These unintentional offenses can put a serious damper on a person’s relationships. As their loved one, recognize that they aren’t trying to hurt you. Their illness is making them say things they don’t mean.
Potential for Irritability
Everyone knows that Alzheimer’s disease causes people to become forgetful. Fewer people understand that it can cause personality changes as well, like many brain illnesses.
One of these personality changes is that patients may become more irritable. They might get angry about things they never would have minded before. They could overreact to mild problems with anger.
Much like the offensive statements we mentioned above, this can drive a wedge in friendships and relationships. Loved ones might get upset about the patient’s reactions and stop calling them.
Instead, it’s important to be forgiving and understanding. Recognize that the person you love hasn’t changed. Instead, it’s just their illness speaking through them, so don’t hold it against them.
Less Social Desire
We’ve talked about plenty of Alzheimer’s symptoms that might hurt a patient’s relationships and social calendar. There’s another one that few people consider, though: the patient’s social drive.
Much like irritability, depression is a common problem that shows up alongside Alzheimer’s. As a result, some patients don’t feel up to going out like they used to.
Some caretakers think they’re doing their loved one a favor by not convincing them to go out and be social. While some relaxation time at home is important, too much can turn the depression into a deepening cycle.
Instead, help them stay active whether they live at home or in an assisted living or nursing facility. Even something as simple as running errands with you can help to pick up your loved one’s spirits.
Maintaining Relationships Throughout a Loved One’s Alzheimer’s
There aren’t many situations that test a relationship like an Alzheimer’s diagnoses. Between memory loss and personality changes, coping with Alzheimer’s family members isn’t easy. With the right preparation, though, you can enjoy a fulfilling relationship throughout the journey.
For more ways to give your loved one the best possible care, find out more about our memory care facility.