Especially during the early stages of Alzheimer’s, episodes of depression and anxiety can occur. It is advisable to pay attention to the emotional health of people who suffer from this neurological disease. How to help them?
September 21 marks World Alzheimer’s Day. Among dementias it is the most common and frequent, representing around 70% of cases. According to data from the Spanish Society of Neurology (SEN), in September 2019 there were some 800,000 people affected by this neurological disease in our country.
During the first stage of the disease, the patient is aware that something is happening to him, that at a cognitive level his memory is not the same and his ability to carry on a conversation is affected, according to Lara Rodríguez de las Heras, a specialized clinical psychologist in Alzheimer’s disease and has been working for more than 20 years at AFABER, the Association of Relatives of Alzheimer’s Patients of Bergantiños (A Coruña), which belongs to FAGAL, the Galician Alzheimer’s Federation.
In the first months of illness, depressive disorders, social isolation or symptoms of anxiety may appear.
“When the family or the environment is seeing serious symptoms in the family member, it is time for them to get in touch with the family doctor, who will later refer them to the neurologist. It will be then when the pertinent tests will be carried out to emotionally treat the symptoms that the person is suffering”, assures the professional.
HOW TO EMOTIONALLY SUPPORT A PERSON WITH ALZHEIMER’S
As general guidelines for the emotional accompaniment of Alzheimer’s patients, the psychologist Lara Rodriguez de las Heras highlights the following:
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- Try to understand the disease. When the family has a better knowledge of the disease, it can better reach the patient, who will feel accompanied from the first moment. The family member should be informed and documented about the disease, ask experts and professionals in the field and speak with centers and associations.
- Do not confront the patient with his reality. Sometimes family members and people around the person diagnosed with Alzheimer’s say phrases such as: “How can you not remember me? Come on, think. They do not do it with bad intentions, but these types of messages are counterproductive because they make their deterioration evident and generate anguish for the patient.
With our words we can make you feel that you are not capable of carrying out what is requested of you and that it should not be so difficult.
- Adapt tasks and routines for the person with Alzheimer’s. It is important not to deny him doing what he feels useful and good with. On the other hand, you should not force him to do activities that you are not comfortable with. The question is that the relatives try to dignify the patient. They need to be able to do certain daily tasks or activities, maintaining functional autonomy.
- Reinforce achievements and progress. It is important that your self-esteem does not get hurt and you do not feel empty or failure. You must continue to stimulate him with tasks, fragment them and control them so that he feels confident and encouraged.
- Show calm and speak calmly. The main caretaker goes through a double duel. On the one hand, during the life of the patient, because he can no longer communicate or barely make himself understood and later, when he dies. Sometimes the bereaved perceives tension within the family, anxiety or fear. And precisely, you should notice calm and kindness.
The family must take care of non-verbal communication, which is the least affected in Alzheimer’s patients.
- Give love. Do not skimp on sweetness – or love of course – in treatment, tone of voice or body expression. Above all, he must be the recipient of all the affection and joy that can be given him. In the final stages of the disease, patients are very welcome to show affection even if they cannot communicate it verbally.
- Let them be free to show their discomfort. A person with Alzheimer needs to be able to express himself, both in the good and the less pleasant. That is, you must be able to talk about your fears and your rejection of the loss you are experiencing. It is essential that you feel heard and recognized in any event. It is important to practice active listening to the feeling.
ENCOURAGING GROUP MEMBERSHIP HELPS
In the centers or associations, they become travel companions and experiences and feelings can be shared. For the psychologist, the feeling of belonging is crucial when facing the journey before them.
Juan Carlos Rodríguez Bernardez, president of the Alzheimer Galicia Federation, highlights the importance of the person with dementia-caregiver pairing, in terms of the emotional situation of both.
“Now more than ever, we are essential services and our centers must remain open to continue offering resources that help improve the quality of life of users and their families”, highlights Juan Carlos.
In these centers, certain treatments can be applied, such as cognitive stimulation workshops, which improve the quality of life of patients and, therefore, of those who accompany them closely.
These cognitive stimulation workshops aim to activate the abilities that are being lost and, in the words of Rodríguez de las Heras, “regain the feeling of belonging to the group.”
The National Alzheimer’s Plan 2019-2020, approved last October, aims to address this and other dementias, establishing measures for the correct and early diagnosis (also updating) of the sick. This initiative seeks, among other objectives, to help improve the quality of life of patients, promote their maximum autonomy or develop social, work and health responses.