Today, more than 5.7 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease, a figure which experts predict will rise to nearly 14 million by the year 2050. Alzheimer’s is not a disease which merely affects the individual. However, family members and friends alike must learn to cope with the changes the disease brings to their loved one.
With a new Alzheimer’s case developing every 65 seconds, it is more important than ever that families, friends, and caregivers stay informed about the symptoms of Alzheimer’s in the hopes of achieving earlier diagnoses and more effective treatment.
Symptoms of Alzheimer’s
Alzheimer’s accounts for anywhere between 60% and 80% of all dementia cases. Characterized by a series of brain interference's known as plaques and tangles, Alzheimer’s negatively affects memory, behavior, and the individual’s ability to process thoughts. As the disease progresses, the effects become more and more severe, eventually interfering with the individual’s ability to perform the basic tasks of daily life. Many patients will require assistance with these tasks along with personal care to ensure they remain safe and comfortable.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the most common symptom of Alzheimer’s is memory loss. Memory loss can disrupt life in a variety of ways. Be on the lookout for these early signs of Alzheimer’s-induced memory loss and interruption of cognitive function:
● General memory loss that interferes with daily life, including forgetting new information or times and dates of significant events.
● Difficulty completing previously familiar tasks such as navigating to a familiar location.
● New problems with language, such as repetition or forgetting familiar words.
● Confusion regarding time, place, or purpose, such as forgetting why an individual is at work or a gathering, or what day of the week or year it is.
● Decreased ability to solve everyday problems that may arise, such as changes in routine or the unexpected temporary closure of a favorite store.
● Withdrawal from familiar activities like work or everyday social or family gatherings.
● Unexplained changes in personality such as withdrawal, fear, hostility, or depression.
● Overall poor judgment in which the individual engages in destructive behaviors not previously typical, like lending money to strangers or purchasing unnecessary or useless items.
Although Alzheimer’s disease cannot currently be prevented, cured, and its progress cannot be slowed, early detection can help ensure your loved one and your family are prepared for its challenges. In addition, new treatments are under constant development that could potentially improve your loved one’s quality of life.
Tips for Caregivers
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, approximately 16.1 million people provide daily, unpaid care for their loved ones. Unless you are a currently practicing medical professional, adjusting to caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s can take some time and patience. The following are a few simple tips for those intending to care for their loved one:
● Maintain a Safe Environment - First and foremost, ensure your loved one’s home is adequately prepared. Secure rugs, stairs, and other trip hazards, and provide locks for other areas that may house hazardous materials, dangerous objects, or weapons. Install bars or handles in areas your loved one may need to access frequently, like bathtubs, showers, or toilets, and ensure fire safety equipment is up-to-date.
● Establish a Routine - Your loved one will likely respond well to familiarity, so build a routine that allows him or her to feel confident in what activity is coming next. Spend some time observing which times of day your loved one is most flexible and alert and do your best to schedule any out-of-routine activities during those times.
● Be Flexible - Adapt your routine based on your loved one, not the other way around. Determine whether small battles over clothing or less-significant parts of your routine are worth a struggle, then adapt based on what works for both of you at the moment.
● Give Choices - Your loved one will eventually grow more and more dependent on you, but it is important that he or she retains a sense of self even as memories fade. Providing a small number of equally feasible choices can be a confidence or mood booster for a person with Alzheimer’s.
● Retain Independence - Although your loved one may be primarily dependent on you, allow him or her to assist you in tasks of which he or she is capable. Retaining a sense of self and independence can help an individual with Alzheimer’s feel like an important part of the family.
● Care For The Individual, Not The Disease - No two people experience Alzheimer’s the same way, so make sure the schedule, choices, and decisions you make reflect your loved one’s individual experience with Alzheimer’s.
● Seek Help When You Need It - Caring for an individual with Alzheimer’s can be overwhelming at times. If you are feeling stressed, exhausted, or overwhelmed, don’t suffer alone. Find a friend, family member, or professional you can talk to, or look into a family member or service that could provide respite care until you’re able to return.
Tips for Friends and Family
When you learn a loved one has Alzheimer’s disease, friends and family will likely wonder what changes they’ll need to make in the way in which they interact with you and the individual with Alzheimer’s. Below are a few tips to share with friends and family to maintain a healthy relationship among all involved:
● Do your best to learn about Alzheimer’s, so you’ll have an idea about what to expect on your next visit.
● Stay in touch with the individual with Alzheimer’s as well as a family member who may be providing care – let them know you’re thinking of them.
● Ask a caregiver about the best times of day to visit, since there are likely times the individual is at his or her best to receive visitors.
● Refer to the individual by name and include him or her in the conversation. If possible, include a small reminder of who you are.
● Ask a caregiver about planning appropriate activities with your loved one.
● Above all, be a shoulder to lean on.
For more information regarding Alzheimer’s care, visit this Alzheimer's care guide.