When Arlene Olaynick's husband, Ted, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease in 2004, the news devastated her.
"I used to cry every day," she said recently from her Carson City home. "It was like he changed overnight."
His mood swings were difficult to handle and he was stubborn, she said.
She was close to putting her husband of 52 years into an assisted living facility until one day she had an epiphany.
"Why be sad? It doesn't pay anything," she said.
Now, five years later, Olaynick, 72, has found peace with her situation and a companion in the man who seems so different from the one she married.
She hopes what she's learned can help others in a similar situation.
"Use tender loving care, talk, listen and communicate with humor. It's less stressful," she said. "Patience is a must."
According to the National Institute on Mental Health, Alzheimer's Disease affects an estimated 4.5 million Americans, a number which has more than doubled since 1980. One in 10 individuals over 65 and nearly half of those over 85 are affected.
"There's not enough humor in the world," said Olaynick. "Ted makes me laugh every day."
Arlene Olaynick's tips for caregivers
• Prescription medications can do wonders. Regular doctors visits are important.
• Watch them take their medication because if you don't, the pills could end up in their drink, on top of their food or in the waste basket.
• Offer small snacks of easy-to-eat foods and drinks every couple of hours along with water. Set snacks on small table next to them with their glasses and tissue so they can find it easily.
• Giving them too many items at once can cause confusion and they do not know what to do with the other items. Giving them one item at a time to work with is best.
• They need constant observation and cannot be left alone. If they are left alone, odd things tend to happen. For example I've found Ted's shoes in the dishwasher or he puts his underwear on the outside of his pants. (A sense of humor helps.)
• Taking a one-hour nap every afternoon seems to help refresh. Olaynick said every day she and Ted nap together.
• Sticking to a schedule every day is very helpful with meals, bed time and personal hygiene.
• Put jingle bells on doors so you can hear if they try to sneak out, and get them an ID bracelet in case they get lost.
• Connecting with other people makes them happy, so take short walks or ride in the car together.
• A cheerful, calm environment is very important. They tend to live in the past. Something that happened 50 years ago is still going on to them.
• The tone of your voice is very important. Don't rile them up by shouting at them when they do something wrong. They may become combative.
• Try to give them little chores to do, it makes them feel important.
• Keep a daily journal of activities. I find sharing stories with others helpful.
• Watch how you approach them. If you startle them and they see two hands coming at them they may put up their dukes.
• Put all sharp objects out of reach so they do not hurt themselves or others.
• Don't let it get to you. Keep a positive attitude and be happy. Accept what you cannot change and take care of yourself first.