“Routine, routine, routine,” said 48-year-old Gary LeBlanc in a telephone interview, referring to what he believed most important in caring for a person with Alzheimer’s disease. He regularly reads this column in the Hernando (Fla.) Today newspaper.
The Alzheimer’s Association website claims this progressive, fatal brain disease affects more than five million Americans. It causes memory, thinking, and behavior difficulties, and is our nation’s sixth-leading cause of death.
“The first time I noticed something wasn’t right was in the way he was handling his checkbook,” said LeBlanc of his now 86-year-old father. “It was something he used to do easily. He was becoming forgetful. But it was like pulling teeth trying to get him to the doctor about it.”
One day, his father went back and forth to the post office three times to pick up his mail because he kept forgetting if he had gone. Said LeBlanc: “We own a bookstore together and I had been working with him side-by-side for 18 years. I really got to see every little stage of it.”
In 2000, doctors diagnosed his father with Alzheimer’s disease. LeBlanc then began learning everything he could about the disease, and in time he was caring for his father around the clock. Last September, he began writing a newspaper column about his personal experiences caring for his father with Alzheimer’s disease.
What he says makes sense.
“Anxiety is one of the biggest problems with this disease,” he said. “The person with it can get so scared, and the caregiver can, too. They can feed off each other. Also, if the caregiver gets all stressed out, then so does the patient.”
He said the surest means to reduce anxiety was to follow a strict daily routine down to the smallest details, even making sure the person with Alzheimer’s knife and fork was in the same spot before meals. Many caregivers make the mistake of altering the daily routine, thinking that could make the person better. But it only increases anxiety.
“If you have no more short-term memory, routine is your biggest friend,” he said. “Keep things routine and simple.” Some practical suggestions: Keep family holiday gatherings simple and small, and don’t give the person with Alzheimer’s too many choices that can cause confusion.
The Alzheimer’s Association reports that every 70 seconds another American becomes diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, he said.