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How to Handle a Patient With Alzheimer's Disease

How to Handle a Patient With Alzheimer's Disease

Marijke Durning | NursingLink

Dealing With the Family

As difficult as it is to admit, at some point in the process of Alzheimer’s Disease, the patient’s care becomes just physical care. They can no longer hold a conversation, they can’t articulate what they want or need – the nursing staff is only there to help patients with their basic physical functions. It’s the time when a nurse is needed the most by the patient’s family.

Although there aren’t any statistics to back it up, generally it’s known that by the time a nurse becomes involved in the care of a patient with Alzheimer’s Disease, the family has been dealing with it for a significant amount of time – for better or worse.

Some people with Alzheimer’s benefit from well-educated families who know what to expect and where to go for help. For those who don’t benefit from that kind of knowledge, a nurse’s assistance can bridge the gap. Her job is twofold: To not only care for the patient, but for the family as well.

Some families are relieved to have a health care professional take over the main role in care giving, but others have a difficult time accepting an “outsider.” After all, they’ve been taking care of Dad for so long that they identify as Dad’s caregiver and feel that they are the ones who know him best; admitting they need help isn’t easy. In situations like these, a nurse should tread lightly; for the patient to receive the best care, he needs the combined help from both sides – his family and his nurse.

Helping Families Cope

For some families, asking for help is akin to admitting defeat, announcing that they can no longer take care of Dad. In this case, a nurse can best help the family by making them understand that while her skills are needed, the family can still play an active role in Dad’s care.

Unfortunately, not all situations are so easy. The hand-over of care can only work well if the whole family agrees that Dad needs professional assistance, and that’s not always the case. There may be arguments among siblings about Dad’s needs: Questions of cost, familial ties, and guilt often arise. A nurse may find herself being more of a patient advocate than ever before. A nurse’s biggest role is to be Dad’s advocate first; only then should she consider the needs of the family.

Caring for patients with AD isn’t an easy task, and it’s going to become more common as the years go by. As more Americans live longer, more will start showing signs of the disease than ever before.

Nursing isn’t always about helping someone get better; it’s often about helping someone live as best as they can, given what they have. And that’s what nurses who care for patients with AD do.

Discuss: How Do You Deal With Alzheimer’s Patients? Tell Us!

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  • 1024963740_m_max50


    over 4 years ago


    Making the decision to put Momma or Daddy or Grannie in the nursing home is one of the most difficult decisions most people face. Accepting that they can no longer care for their loved one at home is heartbreaking. We as nurses can help educate the family and facilitate a smoother transition for patients. Aknowledgeing the pain and fear they are facing can often make the decision easier. Families who face the decision for nursing home placement realistically, visit more often allowing for patients to get the care they need, without losing the family they love.

  • Dsc00091_max50


    over 4 years ago


    Denial within the family is very frightening and disturbing as a nurse in ensuring that the dementia patient is safe in the situation they are in. I have seen denial families who have allowed their loved ones to live alone and some very serious consequences of that. Our role with these patients is vital and our patience is worth more than one can ever know. It is hard to have patience with an Alzheimers patient - but we must be there to keep them safe and know them well enough to be able to assess their needs - which is easier than you think if you take the time to get to know them.

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    Account Removed

    over 4 years ago

    Sometimes the hardest part of dealing with a patient with AD is the family - especially when won't accept the fact that mom or dad or whoever is deteriorating or that they even have AD. Family is convinced it's something else - like an infection or other illness making their family member not "act quite right".

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