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.