We return to our column, Ask The Caregiver’s Voice, with a supportive sister who lends a hand helping care for her sister-in-law living with younger-onset Alzheimer’s since at least age 61 when she was diagnosed.
ASK The Caregiver’s Voice
My brother has been the caretaker for his wife. At age 67, she has had [younger]-onset Alzheimer’s for at least 10 years. I am concerned that she has a terrible time early in mornings with shaking and confusion. She does not know where she is. She doesn’t recognize our other brother and many people, now.
What can we expect in this phase?
I stay with her when my brother needs to get things done or has appointments.
I helped out ever since she got her diagnosis six years ago at the Mayo Clinic.
Thank you for any help you can give us.
Midwest United States
The Caregiver’s Voice Replies
It depends, is she on any Alzheimer’s medication?
Has she been re-evaluated within the last year?
If so, what did her neurologist say?
Alzheimer’s medication will often hold people with dementia at the level they were when they began. Removing or reducing medication will likely continue one’s decline.
Also, her body may be changing its ability to process medications if she’s taking more than one. (The concerned sister wrote in a follow-up email that her sister-in-law has been taking 4 or 5 medications for the past decade and a half.)
A doctor may find that her medications are now causing her to shake.
People diagnosed with Alzheimer’s will decline over time. Your sister-in-law may grow increasingly confused.
However, she will preserve emotional memory while she loses cognitive recall.
Make things easier for her.
When you walk in say, “Hello [her name], it’s me, [your name], your husband [his name] sister. Here’s some cereal with milk for your breakfast.”
Of course, you would use your own words for the situation. The key is to always introduce yourself and add your relationship. This way, when she has those moments of forgetfulness, she will feel comforted knowing who you are.
The worst that can happen is she’ll tell you she knows who you are, but keep doing it anyway. Your brother should also do it. Combine it with a gift of food or something else like a gentle hand and forearm massage with lotion. Comb her hair or whatever she needs.
Your and your brother’s unconditional patience and compassion when she’s confused, fearful, and tries to feel in control of her life while potentially lashing out with fear will help her feel supported and safe.
My best to you as you continue helping your brother with your sister-in-law.