Q: My mother has Alzheimer’s disease and we recently moved her in to live with my family and I. She gets very agitated with me. How can I help her feel calmer at my home?
A: First, I will say thank you for moving her into your home and taking on the role of her primary caregiver. That is not an easy decision. Your mother may not have the ability to thank you and show her appreciation, so I want to be sure you understand how valued your time, care, and love for her are.
Moving is considered one of the most traumatic life events and brings feeling of fear and stress. For someone with Alzheimer’s disease, that is only exacerbated. When people have memory loss, fearful events will be magnified, as their sense of self and their surroundings is shifting.
Keep this in mind and approach your mom with gentle caring, providing space for her feelings. This knowledge can also help you normalize her behavior. While you know the move is in her best interest, she may not always have the capacity to understand and accept that.
Here are some tips to make the transition easier for her, and for you.
First think of the environment in your home. Set up your mom’s room with her belongings, and make it look and feel similar to her previous home. Involve her in the decorating when possible, asking her opinion about hanging things on the walls. Do not give too many choices to overwhelm her, but consider asking “would you like to put this photo here or here.”Two choices is enough, but still provides a feeling of autonomy and that her decisions matter.
Make sure she knows where things are in the home. If you find her getting confused or entering the wrong rooms, then consider labeling doors or cabinets. You can use words or even simple photos to identify where things are located. This may reduce her frustrations in a new space.
Do not take for granted that she knows where everything is located. Her Alzheimer’s disease may have reduced her ability to understand the layout of your home, even if she was familiar before.
When you find her getting frustrated then align with her feelings, validate her and give her space. If she states that she is not at home you can say something like: “I know, this isn’t the same right? But I am so glad you are here with me. Can I make us some tea?” You are not arguing with her, but rather validating how she feels, and then gently distracting her by changing the subject.
Also consider how she spends her time. If boredom sets in, then frustrations will naturally rise to the surface. Try and create a basic schedule for her day that will keep her interested and engaged. You can even keep a wipe board with the day’s schedule listed so she knows what to expect.
You may find it helpful to talk through your situation with a professional in the field. They can help you make a plan for the day, think through what activities you mom may enjoy, and provide you more tips and ways to help both your mom, and you, feel calmer with this new living arrangement. They can also be a resource for you if you require more care and help as the Alzheimer’s disease progresses.
There are information and resources at the Alzheimer’s Association at www.alz.org. Locally, you can reach out to one of Ventura County’s Family Caregiver Resource Centers and make an appointment for a care consultation. Learn more at https://www.vcaaa.org/our-services/caregiver-services/. Joining a caregiver support group through these agencies will also be a great source of support and information for you during your caregiving journey.
As you plan your day and care for your mom, make sure to build in time for yourself. Reach out for help when needed and know that you are not alone.
Martha Shapiro can be reached at Senior Concerns at 805-497-0189 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.