You might never get that call — you know the one, the one where the phone seemingly rings out of nowhere — and you find out your friend or family member is going through something incredibly difficult. If you do get that call about a loved one or someone in your circle getting an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, you might be feeling a little lost and powerless as to how you can help.
But you don’t have to be a world-renowned doctor to help someone with Alzheimer’s and those around them cope; you can turn to these actionable ideas instead.
1. Do Some Disease Research on Your Own
It's natural to have questions, but you don't have to burden friends or family with being the Alzheimer’s encyclopedia. Even if we haven’t quite cracked all the ins-and-outs of Alzheimer's, memory diseases are well researched.
You can turn to organizations like the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America or Alzheimer’s Association to learn more about the science behind the disease, how it works, and the symptoms you might encounter along the way.
The more educated you are, the more prepared you can be to give support in different areas of their life. And you can be another health advocate for them as you watch their behavior and look for important changes their doctors might need to know.
2. Be a Regular Presence in Their Space
Diseases that degrade the memory are particularly difficult as they progress, but one way to stave that off for as long as possible is to be a regular presence in their space. For some, this might mean having daily or weekly lunches where you can check in. For others, this might be a quick daily phone call that lets them hear your voice and reconnect with who you are.
Knowing how to deal with Alzheimer's as a family member or even a friend can be hard, but the more you embed yourself in their daily life, the more familiar they’ll be with you as they move through the disease’s stages. This is especially important if you’re considering looking after them for any period of time, too. They need to feel safe with you, and they’ve got to kind of know who you are to do that.
3. Don’t Ignore Their Situation Entirely
You know it, they know, everyone around them knows it — there’s nothing worse than ignoring the elephant in the room. Not acknowledging the disease doesn’t make it go away and acknowledging it doesn’t somehow make it worse.
A person experiencing Alzheimer’s — especially in the earliest stages — can experience just as much difficulty accepting their diagnosis. They and their carers need people to be open and honest with. They don’t need to be made to feel like a pariah in their own life. Whether they’ll enjoy you making jokes, telling them about new studies, or giving them tips you’ve seen online, you can make yourself a person they can turn to.
4. Take Your Loved Ones to Do Something Fun
A disease like Alzheimer’s or dementia can be all-consuming. While being a shoulder to cry on can be really useful, sometimes people wake up and don’t want to talk it about. Even if you’ve never had a degenerative disease, you’ve definitely felt exasperated with your own life and wanted to take a break for a few hours.
Remember that your loved ones, sick or not, need to laugh and have fun too. Joy and brevity can be one of the best balms to an inescapable situation like Alzheimer’s. Take them to the park, visit some animals on a farm, go to a fair, or take a day trip to the beach. They might’ve been dealt a difficult blow, but that doesn’t mean they don’t get to enjoy life anymore.
5. Help Them Find Resources
Not everyone is tech savvy, and depending on how far along in the disease they are, they might not be comfortable navigating new information and devices. So, one way you can help support someone with Alzheimer's is to be their personal research assistant in your down time.
Schedule appointments at the doctor’s office or find support groups in their area and offer to go with them. If they or their caregivers are struggling to figure something out about their treatment and housing, help them look online and make a few calls. This is a pretty low-energy way you can reinvest your love back into helping them out.
6. Work on Fundraising for The Cause
The only way that we’re going to be able to find a significant treatment plan that extends people’s lives or to cure Alzheimer’s and dementia all together is to let medical professionals do their thing. And they need funding to do the years-long research it takes.
From donating directly to research organizations to setting up GoFundMes, there are many ways to fundraise in someone’s name. For example, you could participate in the Alzheimer’s Association’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s events, which are held all around the United States.
@alzgpa Join us at the Walk to End Alzheimer’s near you this fall! Sign up at alz.org/gpawalk. #walk2endalz #alzheimersawareness #alzheimers #dementia #alzheimersdisease #alzheimersassociation #walk #endalz #volunteer original sound - Alzheimer’s Assoc. Greater PA
7. Ask Carers Where They Could Use the Most Help
Of course, we can’t diminish how important giving caregivers a break is, but that "break" won’t look the same for any two people. While many might want you to watch the person with Alzheimer’s for a period so they can grab a nap or run some errands, that’s not always the case.
Sometimes, they’d desperately love you to cook a meal or pick up the kids from school. Maybe laundry’s piling up and they just can’t get through all the loads while keeping an eye on everything downstairs. If you want to help, ask where you’re most needed and be up for whatever job they give you. If you’re there to help, you should be willing to help in whatever capacity they need.
8. Don’t Take “No, I’ve Got It” as an Answer From Their Caregivers
One of the hardest things you might run into when dealing with a friend or family member who’s caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s is the perfunctory, “no, I’m fine.” Or the, “no, I’ve got it.” When you’re just trying to keep your head above water, showing vulnerability can be the pinprick that lets the dam break, and so many people won’t acknowledge that they might need some help.
So, don’t accept those insistent “I’ve got its” if you can see they’re underwater. Just show up to the house with a casserole or come over with your clippers and tell them you’re trimming their bushes. In a perfect world, people would always reach out if they needed something. But in real life, sometimes you’ve just got to show up and start helping for them to let you lighten their load.
Helping family caregivers can help them stay balanced and continue giving the support the person with Alzheimer's needs.
Give Back the Love They’ve Given to You
Sometimes the smallest gestures can speak the loudest. Knowing what can help someone with Alzheimer's can be a challenge, but don’t let your fear of not contributing "enough" or not doing it "right" get in the way of helping your loved ones who are dealing it. As with any degenerative disease, this is the time they need you the most. And although you might be showing your love in ways you never expected to, they’re feeling it all the same.