A day in the life of an Alzheimer’s caregiver in 8 parts

Alz caregiver in 8 partsA caregiver puts on his or her pants one leg at a time like anyone else. The difference is they have to help a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease put their pants on one leg at a time as well, among several other daily chores. If you’re new to it, though, it may help you to know that your day may go a little something like this:

·         Bathing.

·         Daily activities.

·         Exercise.

·         Going out.

·         Grooming and dressing.

·         Eating.

·         Incontinence management.

·         Medication.

Part I: Bathing


·         Get soap, washcloth, towels, shampoo, etc. ready.

·         Ensure the bathroom is warm and well lit.

·         Soft music may help the person relax.

·         Let the person know it’s time for a bath but don’t argue with them about whether it is necessary.

·         Outline the bath step by step for the benefit of the person.

·         Ensure the water is a comfortable temperature.

·         Do not use bath oil.


·         Place a towel over the person’s shoulders or lap to help them feel less exposed. Use a sponge or washcloth to clean under the towel.

·         Talk about something else to distract the person.

·         Let the person hold a washcloth to decrease the risk that they will hit you.


·         Pat the person’s skin completely dry with a towel.

·         Dry between skin folds.

·         Apply protective ointment around the rectum, vagina, or penis if the person is incontinent.


·         Two or three full baths a week is enough for most people.

·         A sponge bath to the face, hands, feet, underarms, and genitalia will do the rest of the days.

·         It may be easier to wash the person’s hair in the sink with a handheld showerhead than in the shower or tub.

·         Consider getting professional help if bathing becomes too cumbersome.

Safety tips

·         Do not leave a confused or fragile person alone in the bathroom.

·         Check the water’s temperature before the person gets in the tub or shower.

·         Place a rubber mat on the floor of the tub.

·         Install safety grab bars.

·         Use a shower chair to prevent falls.


Part II: Daily activities

Planning ahead

·         Choose activities that match the person’s abilities.

·         Try activities that the entire family can enjoy.

·         Help get the person started.

·         Determine whether the person can do the activity by themselves or if they need help.

·         Watch for signs of frustration.

·         Ensure the person succeeds at the activity and enjoy themselves.

·         Allow them to just watch if they find it more enjoyable.

Suggested activities

·         Washing dishes, setting the table, preparing food, sweeping the floor, dusting, sorting mail, clipping coupons, sorting socks, folding laundry, sorting recycling material, and other household chores.

·         Cooking and baking.

·         Going for a walk together, watching exercise videos, riding a stationary bike, using stretching bands, throwing a ball back and forth, lifting weights.

·         Playing or listening to music, singing, dancing.

·         Feeding, grooming, walking, sitting, or holding a pet.

·         Gardening.

·         Playing board games, reading books, walking in the park with small children.

·         Going out to a restaurant, park, mall, or museum.


Part III: Physical activity

How to get started

·         Set realistic goals.

·         Walk together with the care receiver.

·         If the person has dementia, have them wear an ID bracelet.

·         Watch exercise DVDs or videos aimed at older people.

·         Dance to music.

·         Break down exercises into basic steps.

·         Have the person wear comfortable clothes and shoes.

·         Make sure the person is properly hydrated.

Moderate exercises

·         Sweeping and dusting.

·         Stationary bike.

·         Rubber balls.

·         Stretching bands.

·         Weights.


Part IV: Going out

Planning ahead

·         Plan the outing for the time of the day when the person is at their best.

·         Keep outings short and bring the person back home before he or she becomes too tired.

·         Hand out business-size cards to restaurant staff containing info about the person, for example that they have Alzheimer’s disease.

Eating out

·         Before going to a specific restaurant, consider whether:

·         It is quiet or noisy.

·         Tables are easy to get or waiting is required.

·         The restrooms meet the person’s needs.

·         The waiters are helpful and understanding.

·         The care receiver knows the restaurant and likes the food in the menu.

At the restaurant

·         Let the waiter know whether you need extra spoons, bowls, napkins, etc.

·         Get a quiet table near the restroom.

·         Seat the person with their back to busy areas.

·         Read the menu to the person limiting the number of choices and offer suggestions the person will like.

·         Accompany the person to the restroom.


Part V: Grooming and dressing

Oral care

·         Show the person how to brush their teeth step by step, letting them do as much as they can.

·         Brush your own teeth simultaneously.

·         Help them clean their dentures.

·         Ask them to rinse their mouth with water after each meal and with mouthwash once daily.

·         Consider a long-handled, angled, or electric toothbrush.

·         Bring the person to see a dentist regularly.


·         If the person is a woman, allow her to continue wearing make-up.

·         If a man, encourage him to shave – or allow you to shave him – with an electric razor for safety.

·         Take them to the barber or beauty shop.

·         Trim and clean their nails.


·         Lay out articles of clothing in the order they should be donned; i.e., underwear, pants, shirt, sweater.

·         Hand the person one item of clothing at a time or give them instructions one step at a time.

·         Limit choices.

·         Lock the closet if necessary.

·         Purchase loose, comfortable clothing.

·         Favor Velcro over zipper pulls, shoelaces, buttons, or buckles.


Part VI: Eating

Shopping and cooking

If you live with the person:

·         Buy vegetables, fruits, and whole-grain products that the person likes and can eat.

·         Buy food that is easy to prepare.

·         Give the person choices – but not too many.


If the person lives alone, keep an open eye for sings such as these:

·         They forget to eat.

·         Food has been left on the stove and burned.

·         The oven hasn’t been turned off.


·         Mealtimes are an opportunity to interact.

·         Allow enough time for the person to finish the meal.

·         Serve meals at the same time the person has always been accustomed to.

·         Avoid new routines.


Part VII: Incontinence


·         Schedule trips to the bathroom every 2-3 hours whether or not the person asks to go.

·         Show them the way to the bathroom or take them yourself.

·         Watch for body language that may indicate a need to go to the bathroom, like restlessness or pulling at their clothes.

·         Make sure the person wear clothes that are easy to remove.

·         Limit fluid intake in the evening, especially coffee and tea.

·         If the person is thirsty at night, give them fresh fruit instead of liquids.

·         Place a sign on the bathroom door that says ‘Toilet’ or ‘Bathroom.’

·         Make sure the toilet seat is stable and at a good height (use a raised toilet seat if necessary).


Part VIII: Medication


·         Ask the doctor or pharmacist the following questions:

·         What is the medication for?

·         What are the benefits?

·         For how long should the person take it?

·         How much should they take daily?

·         When should they take it?

·         What happens if a dose is missed?

·         What are the side effects?

·         Does it have interactions with other medications?


·         Administer the lowest possible dose.

·         Keep an eye out for side effects.

·         Give the medication a few weeks to be effective.

·         Keep drugs under lock and key.