How to Support a Friend With Alzheimer’s and Their Family

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by Ray Burow |

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“I wish to do something great and wonderful, but I must start by doing the little things like they were great and wonderful.” — Albert Einstein

With more than 5 million people in the United States living with Alzheimer’s disease, most of us either know someone who has been diagnosed or are acquainted with a caregiver. Our initial response might be pity, but caregivers and patients with Alzheimer’s disease don’t want pity, though we do long to have someone understand what we’re going through.

It’s almost too much to ask, since it’s difficult for anyone on the outside of dementia to grasp its gravity. Still, a well-thought-out attempt goes a long way.

What would you do?

Imagine yourself in a similar situation. What response would be appropriate to address your feelings? The correct response may be to just be there, present in your friend’s mourning and sadness. Respond with a listening ear when your friend needs to vent. You could also find a practical way to get involved to help heal a friend’s heartache.

Choose one of the following ideas or come up with a plan that is unique to your friend’s experience and act on it.

Forever friends

A loss of good friends is one of the problems faced by people with Alzheimer’s disease. It’s an understandable, yet unacceptable problem.

The changes brought on by dementia affect friendships as dementia begins to take its toll on the brain. The person affected may have days when they don’t remember you. Shared experiences become one-sided memories, as the person with dementia loses more and more of themselves.

Don’t speak down to a person with dementia. Speak with them as peers, because that’s what they are.

Though your friend’s memory is failing, you can still hold on to the good times, and even relay them during visits, forging a new friendship with an old friend. Don’t let your friend traverse dementia alone. Be there. It will be a great comfort in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease and during the initial diagnosis. It is also a blessing for caregivers when a loved one’s friend is there for backup and moral support.

Every day is laundry day

In the U.S., the average family washes clothes eight to 10 times per week. That’s a lot, but it is almost guaranteed that caregivers launder clothes, sheets, and towels more often than the average American family. Laundry is a caregiver’s bane. Most of us at least wash bedding, bathroom towels, and washcloths daily.

Maybe carting off a friend’s laundry and taking it home to add to your eight to 10 loads isn’t the best or most attractive idea, but arranging laundry service could be. You don’t have to make a long-term commitment, but a load here or there will give the caregiver the break he or she needs.

Forgive shortcomings

Caregiving is a full-time job. It is easy for other responsibilities to fall by the wayside. Caregivers juggle a lot of plates and every once in a while one crashes to the floor. Please give caregiving families a break when they fall short of expectations, especially in the early days when grappling with a sudden diagnosis.

It’s not until a few plates are shattered that we begin to understand it’s impossible to accomplish everything like we used to. We forget appointments, run late, fail to follow through on promises. The one thing we don’t fail to do is to feel guilty.

You can give the luxury of forgiveness to a caregiver who is beating themselves up over shortcomings. Understand that it’s not an organizational issue that fuels the failings, but a caregiving issue, which is often out of our control.

No act of kindness, understanding, or empathy is too small

You can’t imagine the immenseness of your support to a caregiver, a person with Alzheimer’s, or their family. Yes, it’s true — it’s impossible to grasp the gravity of a dementia diagnosis until facing one yourself or as a loving caregiver. We pray you never will.


Note: Alzheimer’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Alzheimer’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Alzheimer’s disease.


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