One of the things that makes Alzheimer’s, and all dementia for that matter, so devastating is that it destroys the most important organ we have, the brain. As the control center for our entire body, the brain plays a role in every function. This, of course, includes how our senses work, from perception to reaction.
Since different parts of the brain are responsible for each of the senses, they will be affected differently by Alzheimer’s. If you’re caring for a family member with Alzheimer’s, it’s important to become familiar with the effects Alzheimer’s disease has on the 5 senses. This will help you understand the physical obstacles your family member is handling on a daily basis.
Although Alzheimer’s disease has no physical effects on the eyes, it impacts the ability of the brain to translate images. This can cause confusion, disorientation and anxiety. It can also prevent the person from recognizing familiar people or places.
Ways to Handle Issues With Sight & Interpretation
-Avoid using small rugs in a family members house. Not only are they the cause of many trips and falls, but the color difference between the floor they lay on may give the perception of a hole. This side effect may disorient the person with Alzheimer’s and may make them fearful or confused
-Create color contrast between floors and walls to create visual “depth.” To eliminate tripping hazards, remove rugs or mats from the floor that are a similar color to the surrounding walls and décor
-Mark the edges of steps with brightly colored strips of tape to identify height changes
-Place brightly colored signs or simple pictures on doors for easier identification. (i.e. bathroom, bedroom, etc.)
An ordinary side effect of Alzheimer’s disease is a loss of smell. In most cases, this issue is discovered before the Alzheimer’s diagnosis. Although a loss in smell does not indicate that one has Alzheimer’s disease, it is advised that one consult a physician to confirm the source of the problem
Ways to Protect & Care For a Family Member With a Loss in Smell
-Install smoke detectors and check them frequently
-Keep refrigerators clear of spoiled food. Due to the lack of smell, spoiled food may be consumed
-Remove or secure all items with toxic fumes
As Alzheimer’s progresses the sensitivity of the taste buds can be dulled. This side effect may cause your family member to become less hungry. To avoid severe weight loss or malnutrition, it’s important to help your loved one plan their weekly meals, offer more frequent and smaller meals and keep healthy snacks available.
A loss in taste may also increase the probability of your family member placing hazardous items in their mouths. We recommend removing dangerous chemicals and objects from the home to avoid health hazards.
Ways to Care For a Family Member Without Taste
-Adjust prepared foods to compensate for lack of taste. Avoid adding extra salt or spices that might upset their digestive system.
-Lock up all cleaning supplies
-Learn the Heimlich maneuver
While an individual’s hearing is not usually impacted by Alzheimer’s disease, the ability to process sounds can be impaired. For example, the doorbell could ring and be heard, but not understood. It becomes a random sound that would just cause confusion and anxiety.
How to Care For a Family Member With Hearing Issues
-Reduce and edit the noises inside the home. If the television is on, don’t play music or turn on a radio
-Be aware of noise outside the home. Utilize a secluded space in the home as a retreat when outside noises can’t be controlled
-Avoid large gatherings of people in the home.
Once a family member reaches a late stage of Alzheimer’s, their brain may not be able to interpret the physical sensations. An individual with this side effect may not be able to distinguish between hot or cold or may not feel pain. Because this covers such a broad range of experiences and safety issues, we recommend removing dangerous possessions, objects, and materials from the house.
Ways to Care For a Family Member With Sensory Impairment
-Set water heaters at 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
-Color code water faucet handles. (Ex: red for hot and blue for cold)
-Remove knobs from the stove and place warning signs on the oven and other appliances that get hot.
-Remove all knives and sharp objects. If the person injures themselves, they may not realize it. This could lead to excessive bleeding or untreated wounds that could become infected.
-Make sure that seasonally appropriate clothing is worn. Put extra blankets on their bed during cold weather.
As a caregiver, you always want to encourage independence, safety is the number one concern. Making adjustments in the environment will usually be a work in progress, ever-changing and evolving. It is important to be aware of changes in the person you are caring for so that you can react and respond. If you’re struggling to care for a loved one that has a form of dementia, give our team a call at (630) 534-0886. Terra Vista is a memory care assisted living community in Oakbrook Terrace, Illinois that provides advanced Alzheimer’s and dementia care.