Simplifying Tasks For the Person with Alzheimer's
A short primer for caregivers on how to break down the daily tasks of those with Alzheimer's.
Because of the effects of Alzheimer's disease on the brain, people with AD have a diminished ability to follow complex directions or complete multi-step tasks. To help them have continued success, we need to simplify each task as much as possible, and break down complex tasks into single steps, giving one direction at a time. This sounds easy, but we tend to do many things without thinking.
Try writing down all the steps to a task that your loved one has begun having difficulty doing. Identify which steps she can still do and which steps require assistance. Then figure out how you can A) simplify the task and B) provide assistance through visual and spoken cues without actually taking over the task. For example, in this video one man found that if he put a toothbrush with toothpaste on it in his wife's hand, she could then brush her teeth on her own. Another woman found that if she provided an unvarying and structured routine, her mother could still get her own breakfast.
Other advice given in this video included:
- Using the same words when you need to repeat a direction (so that it doesn't seem like a new direction).
- Speak slowly and calmly (and keep your body language relaxed).
- Use short words and simple sentences.
- Allow time for the person to tune in and understand your words.
- Be patient, respectful, easy-going and encouraging.
Applying the video to your own situation
Think about the tasks your loved one has begun having difficulty doing. In what ways might you simplify those tasks? It isn't always as easy as it sounds. Short words, simple sentences, and single-step directions all require careful thought. A common staff training exercise is to have one person turn her back while giving another person directions for making a peanut butter sandwich. Many forget to give the first direction – meaning how to get the bread out of the bag – which can lead to hilarious results.
Writing down each step helps us to clarify what we need to say – and what we might have left out – but it's also important to give the person with Alzheimer's disease time to "tune in." For example, you may have to call his name several times before he is even aware you are talking to him. The other key element is to slow down our actions and our speech. We usually have no idea how hurried (and harried) we appear to our loved ones when we are trying to get them to do something, and that adds to their confusion and discomfort.
Adapted from: A Part of Daily Life: Alzheimer's Caregivers Simplify Activities and The Home American Occupational Therapy Assn., Bethesda, MD
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We need to simplify each task as much as possible, and break down complex tasks into single steps, giving one direction at a time. This sounds easy, but we tend to do many things without thinking.