Patients with Alzheimer''s disease need 24-hour a day attention. Even if the caregiver has the resources to keep the patient at home during later stages of the disease, outside help is still essential. If available, home visits by a health profession can have a favorable impact on survival and delay the need for a nursing home.
Incontinence. Incontinence (loss of control of bowel or urine function) is generally devastating to the caregiver and a primary reason why many caregivers decide to seek nursing home placement. When the patient first shows signs of incontinence, the doctor should make sure that it is not caused by an infection. Urinary incontinence may be controlled for some time by trying to monitor times of liquid intake, feeding, and urinating. Once a schedule has been established, the caregiver may be able to anticipate incontinent episodes and get the patient to the toilet before they occur.
Immobility and Pain. As the disease progresses, patients become immobile, literally forgetting how to move. Eventually, they become almost entirely wheelchair-bound or bedridden. Bedsores can be a major problem. Sheets must be kept clean, dry, and free of food. The patient''s skin should be washed frequently, gently blotted thoroughly dry, and moisturizers applied. The patient should be moved every 2 hours and the feet kept raised with pillows or pads. Exercises should be administered to the legs and arms to keep them flexible.
Dehydration. Dehydration can become a problem. It is important to encourage fluid intake equal to ' glasses of water daily. Coffee and tea are diuretics and will deplete fluid.
Eating Problems. Weight loss and the gradual inability to swallow are two major related problems in late-stage Alzheimer''s and are associated with an increased risk of death. Weight gain, however, is linked to a lower risk of dying. The patient can be fed through a feeding syringe, or the caregiver can encourage chewing action by pushing gently on the bottom of the patient''s chin and on the lips. The caregiver should offer the patient foods of different consistency and flavor. Because choking is a danger, the caregiver should learn to administer the Heimlich maneuver. In very late stages, some caregivers choose feeding tubes for the patient. They should be aware that feeding tubes have no measurable impact on survival.