Visiting a Relative with Alzheimer’s Disease

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Relatives visiting during the holidays or gathering for a special event may express mixed feelings about being around someone with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. Out-of-town relatives never know what to expect from one visit to the next unless the caregiver has provided exceptionally detailed information regarding what goes on with the elderly person in the home.

Expect Changes in the Alzheimer’s Patient

Sometimes it’s hard to tell there is anything different about a person with Alzheimer’s, especially the elderly loved one in the early stage of the disease. Dementia affects each person differently and progresses at different speeds. A visitor has to take his cue from information that’s been provided by the caregiver and from any unusual activity witnessed in person.

Expect the elderly person with memory loss to be more forgetful than during the last visit. He or she may not remember names or may get people confused. The Alzheimer’s client may talk about life at a much younger age, as if he were still living in those times. In the person’s mind, that’s exactly where he is. Depending on how the condition has advanced, the elderly person with Alzheimer’s disease may exhibit bizarre behaviors or may act irrationally.

Expect Changes in the Caregiver

Expect changes in the caregiver who cares for an aging spouse or elderly parent, especially if the person has been in the role for a long time. Caring for another adult 24/7 – an adult advancing through the stages of Alzheimer’s – is grueling work. The person in charge is probably exhausted from the physical work and emotional drain. A caregiver takes on multiple roles besides helping the aging person with basic needs.

Respect any changes that have been made to accommodate the loved one with dementia or memory loss. Many times a relative that hasn’t been around in a while has no clue or doesn’t believe the caregiver when he or she explains the bizarre behaviors exhibited by some Alzheimer’s clients.

Choose Activities Enjoyed by the Elderly Person with Alzheimer’s

Does the person enjoy watching movies from a different time period? Perhaps a trip to the library or video store would be fun. Listen when Grandma or Grandpa talks about the good old days when he or she was growing up. It’s amazing what family history can be learned, as well as historical facts in general.

Keep it simple if bringing a gift, such as for Christmas or a birthday. There are electronics (personal CD and DVD players) that make suitable gifts for the person with Alzheimer’s. The best way to choose a gift for the patient with dementia is to ask the caregiver what might be appropriate.

Avoid Subjects that Might Agitate the Person with Alzheimer’s or Dementia

One of the most sensitive topics that’s best avoided is driving. Some elderly people have no problem giving up the keys, but others – particularly men – view giving up driving as losing the last bit of independence. If there is any chance this is an emotional subject, then find something else to talk about.

Talking about people, events, and places the elderly person no longer remembers is frustrating. Try to stick to what the person remembers and include the elder in conversations.

Another touchy subject is finances. If Grandma has had to take over Grandpa’s checkbook and monitors his spending habits, he may not be too happy about it. Such talk could fuel an angry outburst.

Knowing what to expect makes it easier when visiting a relative that has Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. Communication between the caregiver and other family members keeps everyone up to date on what is happening. Include the elderly family member in conversations and family activities as much as the person’s ability will allow. When in doubt about a conversation topic, it’s best to avoid what might start an argument. Be prepared and expect changes in the elderly person and in the caregiver, and make the most of the time spent together.