Part of caring for patients with Alzheimer’s is understanding their background. Being able to have a simple case history of their previous years, their interests, hobbies, or even their personal struggles can help in the process of health maintenance and recovery. Many would often categorize Alzheimer’s patients in one cookie-cutter profile, but a few would only consider taking a deeper look into Alzheimer’s patients struggling with an addiction.
The link between Alzheimer’s and addiction
There are studies that support that long-term drug use is a risk factor for people to have Alzheimer’s diseases later in life. The University of Edinburgh started a brain scan study and found similarities in function and appearance of long-term drug users and those suffering from early Alzheimer’s.
In a 2010 study, it was shown that the 14-20% of the elderly population had at least one or more substance abuse problem or other forms of mental illness. These numbers are expected to increase in the next 30 years, as the medical and research field attempts to find ways to mitigate the cause.
As medicine and technology gradually pave its way to find a cure for Alzheimer’s and strengthen its link towards addiction, what are some ways that caregivers can do their part?
What are ways to care for a patient with Alzheimer’s struggling with addiction?
1. Help the patient with the task analysis.
Task analysis is the breaking down of a single task into multiple, do-able steps. For example, if your patient has trouble brushing his teeth, you can break down the single task into smaller, comprehensible steps such as:
- Opening the toothpaste cap
- Getting your toothbrush
- Squeezing the toothpaste tube and placing toothpaste on the toothbrush
- Brushing your teeth
The simplification of the whole task into individual steps can help form brain responses that will aid your patient in becoming more independent in daily activities. Additionally, it helps improve focus and attention on the particular activity, making them less susceptible to focus on addictions or other mental states.
2. Engage the patient in mentally stimulating activities.
Helping your patient participate in mentally stimulating activities can have multiple benefits. First, it helps decrease the loss of brain function; second, it helps your patient focus on productive forms of hobbies; and third, it helps fill in the void left by substance abuse in the past.
Some examples of mentally stimulating activities found in luxury drug treatment centers include playing jigsaw puzzles, crossword puzzles, board games, video games, or brain teasers found in books or resources. There are also toys that patients can assemble that help boost their cognitive skills.
3. Initiate healthy conversations with your patient.
As a caregiver, you are not only on the lookout for your patient’s physiological health but also their social and emotional health. A good way of boosting your patient’s overall wellness is by starting healthy conversations with them. A healthy conversation may be something such as starting a topic about their family, previous years, their occupation, and the things that interest them.
There may be occasions where your patient will share their personal feelings and thoughts about what happened to them. Have a listening ear and be encouraging with your tone. Know that your patient may be unloading some burdens that they have carried throughout the years–and you might be the only person they could share it too. Helping them to communicate what they feel is a therapeutic way to treat Alzheimer’s and symptoms of addiction.
4. Provide your patient with a good nutrition and fitness regimen.
Nutrition is an important part of wellness, and this includes helping the brain get the right sustenance for functioning. Some of the best foods to include in a patient with Alzheimer’s and addiction are: green leafy vegetables, nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, and fish.
Patients may also have a functionally-appropriate fitness plan to help them stay in shape and get the maximum health benefits of exercise. Others can do brisk walking or cardio routines, while some may only have the capacity to do passive exercises. Whichever is recommended, be sure to follow your patient’s diet and fitness plan.
5. Give encouragement to your patient when needed.
Having Alzheimer’s paired with addiction can be a mental and emotional rollercoaster ride for your patient. It is best to see things through their eyes and provide extra care and patience when necessary. There are times where your patient will show outbursts or appear stubborn because of withdrawal symptoms. In other instances, they might test your patience due to their Alzheimer’s.
Be an encouragement to your patient. Make sure to verbally praise them and acknowledge their thoughts when needed. Letting them know that they’re one step closer to finishing even the smallest of goals are vital to their wellbeing.
As a caregiver, you are providing a ray of hope to those who need it the most. The task may be challenging most of the time and some work even go unappreciated–this is not the whole point. The whole point of caring for others is finding joy and fulfillment that you were able to help those who can’t help themselves.