Woman holding an older person's hand

Helping a person with Alzheimer’s disease

OCT 16, 2015
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Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia. It affects memory, intelligence, judgment, language, and behavior. It is not clear what causes this disease. But it is the most common form of dementia in older adults. It may take many years to develop.


Alzheimer’s disease is different than mild memory loss that occurs with aging.


Family members usually notice symptoms first. But the person also may realize that something is wrong.


Follow-up care is a key part of your loved one’s treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if your loved one is having problems. It’s also a good idea to know your loved one’s test results and keep a list of the medicines he or she takes.


How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Develop a routine. The person will feel less frustrated or confused with a clear, simple daily plan. Remind him or her about important facts and events.
  • Be patient. It may take longer for the person to complete a task than it used to.
  • Help the person eat a balanced diet. Serve plenty of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables every day. If the person is not eating well at mealtimes, give snacks at midmorning and in the afternoon. Offer drinks such as Boost, Ensure, or Sustacal if he or she is losing weight.
  • Encourage exercise. Walking and other activity may slow the decline of mental ability. Help the person keep an active mind. Encourage hobbies such as reading and crossword puzzles.
  • Ask family members and friends for help. You may need breaks where others can help care for the person.
  • Talk to the person’s doctor about what resources are available for help in your area.
  • Review all of the person’s medicines with his or her doctor.
  • For as long as the person is able, allow him or her to make decisions about activities, food, clothing, and other choices. Let the person be independent, even if tasks take more time or are not done perfectly. Tailor tasks to the person’s abilities. For example, if cooking is no longer safe, ask for other help. He or she can help set the table or make simple dishes such as a salad. When the person needs help, offer it gently.


Keeping safe

  • Make your home (or the person’s home) safe. Tack down rugs, and put no-slip tape in the tub. Install handrails, and put safety switches on stoves and appliances. Keep rooms free of clutter. Make sure walkways around furniture are clear. Do not move furniture around, because the person may become confused.
  • Use locks on doors and cupboards. Lock up knives, scissors, medicines, cleaning supplies, and other dangerous things.
  • Do not let the person drive or cook if he or she cannot do it safely. A person with Alzheimer’s should not drive unless he or she is able to pass an on-road driving test. Your state driver’s license bureau can do a driving test if there is any question.
  • Get medical alert jewelry for the person so you can be contacted if he or she wanders away. If possible, provide a safe place for wandering, such as an enclosed yard or garden.


When should you call for help?


Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • A person who has Alzheimer’s disease has disappeared.
  • A person who has Alzheimer’s disease is seriously injured.


Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • The person you are caring for suddenly sees or hears things that are not there (hallucinates).
  • The person you are caring for has a sudden, drastic change in his or her behavior.


Watch closely for changes in your loved one’s health, and be sure to contact the doctor if:

  • A person who has Alzheimer’s disease gradually gets worse or has symptoms that could cause injury.
  • You need help caring for a person with Alzheimer’s disease.
  • The person has problems with his or her medicine.



Current as of: November 14, 2014

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Care instructions adapted under license by Kaiser Permanente. This care instruction is for use with your licensed healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.

The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.

TOPICSAlzheimersBetter LivingEducationSafety