Guide to Caring for a Loved One with Alzheimer’s

Guide to Caring for a Loved One with Alzheimer’s by Sharon Wagner

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Alzheimer’s is a devastating diagnosis that millions of families cope with every year. If you have a loved one with this illness, this guide from What To Do About Mama? will offer you some support.

What is Alzheimer’s Disease?

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive brain disorder that makes up about 60% to 70% of the cases of senile dementia. Alzheimer’s disease affects about 6.2 million Americans aged 65 and older. It can be your grandparent, your cousin, your sibling or even your parent who faces the diagnosis. Eventually, those with Alzheimer’s require around-the-clock care, and for many families, that means taking the loved one into their own home.

Signs of Alzheimer’s disease vary depending on which stage the person is in. As a degenerative brain disorder, symptoms become more severe with time. Here, we’ve separated the stages into three basic tiers: mild, moderate, and severe Alzheimer’s disease.

  • With mild Alzheimer’s disease, a person may seem healthy but they begin to show signs of the disorder. Mild Alzheimer’s is characterized by memory loss, poor judgment, consistently getting lost, taking longer to do simple tasks, needing things repeated, losing things, mood disorders, and aggression.
  • As the disorder progresses it becomes moderate Alzheimer’s disease. Signs of this stage include increased memory loss and confusion, cognitive difficulties, disorganized thoughts, difficulty coping with things that are new, hallucinations, paranoia, impulsiveness, restlessness, and increased anxiety and aggression. During this stage, the Alzheimer’s patient needs more intensive supervision and care from those around them, but they can typically stay in their homes.
  • Severe Alzheimer’s disease makes a person completely dependent on others. They need supervision around the clock and access to emergency medical care. Symptoms include a complete loss of communication ability, seizures, skin infections, loss of bowel and bladder control, trouble swallowing, increased sleeping, weight loss, and grunting.

Caregiving for a Person with Alzheimer’s

As Alzheimer’s disease progresses, the patient requires supervision and assistance for their safety and wellbeing. In the illness’s latest stage, this often means moving the loved one into a skilled nursing facility with a staff that can provide the care they need 24 hours a day. Unfortunately, this care doesn’t come cheaply, with a current average cost of over $7,700 each month. To help cover this expense, many families sell a senior’s home and put the proceeds toward their care. You can get an idea of what your loved one’s home will sell for by looking at its sale price, the size of the mortgage on it, and the taxes and fees for its sale so you can budget for care accordingly.

There is some good news: while those in the severe stage of Alzheimer’s may need to be admitted to an assisted living facility, typically those in the earlier stages can continue living at home as long as a family member or loved one can provide support. There are an estimated 16 million American adults who act as family caregivers for someone with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia every year. If you find yourself in the position of being one of these millions, it’s important to prepare the home you share for their safety as the disease worsens.

  • As mobility becomes an issue, handling steps and stairs becomes more and more difficult for the Alzheimer’s patient. Be sure to keep all their necessities on the first floor and cover inclines with a safety ramp they can safely navigate.
  • The bathroom is the most dangerous room in the house. Place toiletries and things they will need in immediate reach, and make sure they’re clearly labeled. Put locks on cabinets and drawers that hold hazardous items like cleaning products or razors. Install grab bars next to the toilet and tub, and consider installing a shower bench to make bathing easier.
  • The Alzheimer’s patient needs their own space where they can seek privacy and rest. Set up a comfortable room, preferably with direct access to a private bathroom. Place things they like in the room whether it be photos of loved ones, safe crafts to do, or a television. Remove possibly harmful decor and items, especially things that can shatter if broken. Avoid low furniture they can trip over such as coffee tables and ottomans.


Alzheimer’s is a degenerative brain disorder that affects millions of seniors. As the disease worsens, patients need constant supervision for their wellbeing. While severe Alzheimer’s may necessitate an assisted living facility, during the earlier stages people can generally stay in the comfort of their home with the help of a caregiver. Caregivers provide supervision, security, and emotional support during this difficult time.

An interview with the authors of “What to Do about Mama?: A Guide to Caring for Aging Family Members”

An interview with the authors of "What to Do about Mama?: A Guide to Caring for Aging Family Members".