The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic requires most people across the country to shelter in place. Frustrations and tension among family members may increase. The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA) offers tips to strengthen relationships among those who care for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease.

As isolation continues, it may be hard for caregivers to take a break, which can create tension, anxiety, stress and resentment. The impact of Alzheimer’s on memory also makes it harder for the person living with the disease to understand what’s happening. Dealing with these feelings head-on and strengthening the bonds between family members is important.

Tips to reduce tensions:

  • Find what works. If your loved one with Alzheimer’s disease responds favorably to certain activities or approaches, maximize those, as it helps with stress levels and mood (yours and theirs). Communicate what works with other family members. For example, if calling to check in daily helps reduce stress, make sure to express that.
  • Identify and understand triggers. Knowing what actions generate stress and frustration — for the person with Alzheimer’s disease and the caregiver — is important. Recognizing triggers early, and reacting to them quickly and constructively, reduces the likelihood of a “blowup.” Pay attention to nonverbal cues — such as a flushed face, sweaty palms or increased heart rate — as warning signs. Caregivers should share negative triggers with others who you or your loved one interact with. Be direct about their needs and your own. For example, say “It really upsets me when you go days without checking in to see how things are going.”
  • Journal. Track your loved one’s positive and negative behavior and triggers and your own. Journaling can release emotions, gain self-knowledge, increase ability to problem-solve and heal relationships.
  • Maintain a daily structure. Routines can help reduce stress and anxiety. If your loved one gets up, eats or goes to sleep at certain times, adhere to that schedule as best as possible. If you normally exercise every morning before work, continue doing so, even if you’re not leaving the house.
  • Find coping mechanisms. Meditation, counting to 20 or taking deep breaths are easy ways to calm down and de-stress. “Venting” or talking with trusted loved ones or friends can be helpful. AFA’s Helpline (866-232-8484) is staffed by licensed social workers seven days a week. Access the Helpline via our chat at www.alzfdn.org (look for the light blue and white icon on the bottom right-hand corner).
  • Have “family care meetings.” The relative who lives with or nearest to them often provides the most care for people with Alzheimer’s. This can lead to feelings of resentment. Regularly bring family members together to discuss the situation and divide responsibilities, which may include financial and legal duties and personal care. Collaboration, compromise and structure are keys. These meetings can be held over the phone or through FaceTime, Skype, etc.

About the author: Jennifer Reeder, LCSW, is the director of Educational and Social Services for the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America.

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