Five Tips to Survive and Thrive as an Alzheimer’s Caregiver

Daniel C. Potts, M.D., an award-winning neurologist, author, educator, and advocate for those with dementia, along with Ellen Woodward Potts are authors of A Pocket Guide for the Alzheimer’s Caregiver (Dementia Dynamics LLC, 2011). The book presents information the Potts wish they had possessed earlier on in their journey caring for Daniel’s father Lester.

According to Daniel and Ellen Potts, “Kind, validating, respectful caregiving is the most precious gift you can bestow upon a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease or any form of dementia.” ( Following are five key principles to help caregivers survive and thrive while caring for loved ones with Alzheimer’s:

1. LISTEN with all your senses. Your loved one may not be able to speak with words.
2. LEARN to value the person’s remaining talents and to find new ones. Often, the expressive arts (music, art, poetry, dance, reminiscence, etc.) can help the person connect when verbal language is failing.
3. LIVE in their world. The person cannot come back into reality, so there is no reason to argue, no matter how bizarre the statements. Don’t correct! Redirect!
4. LOVE the person in the now and love yourself. Grieving the person he was is natural, but don’t let it keep you from loving who he is now. Love and forgive yourself. Understand that it is impossible to live up to your own standards.
5. LAUGH with your loved one! It will keep you sane.

3 thoughts on “Five Tips to Survive and Thrive as an Alzheimer’s Caregiver

  1. You can’t possibly laugh when your loved one is in the last stages of Alzheimer’s– there is no joy, no pleasure, just pain.. that you have lost the most important person in the world. And, you haven’t even experienced the complete loss… the death — after a long long good bye. You wait.
    And you grieve over and over again.

    • Dear Carole, I’m so very sorry for the deep pain of your struggle. Alzheimer’s is a cruel illness. I know–I’ve lost several close family members to this disease and was a caregiver for several of them.

      We all grieve differently. In the latter stages of my mother’s Alzheimer’s and even in the days just before her death, my family and I did experience joy in the sweet memories of my mother’s life. There was laughter as we remembered who she was and the gifts she had given through her influence. My mother loved to laugh. And although her death was excruciating, our joy comes in knowing we have not lost her to the futility of a cruel disease. We will see her again. She is experiencing the wonders of heaven, and death was her transition from this life to an eternity of joy.

      You are right in saying there is no please or joy in Alzheimer’s. The disease is cruel and a monster. But my focus was on my mother’s life and the battle she fought valiantly, even through the pain. Her faith brought me joy. Her sense of enduring humor brought me joy. Her smile brought me joy. Every moment with her was a treasure that brought me joy, even in the sorrow and pain.

      I still grieve for my mother–over and over again. But sorrow does not negate my joy.

      Thank you for your honest expression of suffering in this deep place of loss.

      • Dear Shelly
        Thank you so much for your kind and thoughtful comments concerning ‘surviving’ Alzheimer’s.
        Sometimes I think my grieving is very selfish because instead of concentrating on the wonderful years we had together, I think mainly of the sadness that it is over and he is no longer able to enjoy anything. Yes, his needs are met by his caregivers with much respect and dignity, but he no longer recognizes his surroundings, his family, and all the things he loved in the past.
        Perhaps a belief in Heaven would be helpful but this is simply not part of my philosophy and I see nothing after death but memories by the survivors.
        Maybe I should try harder to love who he is now, instead of dreading each visit –
        I often feel that when he dies, I will experience extreme guilt that I have not been able to visit him very often because of my feelings.
        And the guilt goes on.
        I must try harder.
        I do appreciate your thoughts so very much, knowing that you too have been through this.

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