Alzheimer’s is a chronic, progressive disease that causes brain cells to degenerate and die off.
The disease was first described in 1906 by Dr. Alois Alzheimer, a German psychiatrist after a patient died of a mysterious mental illness involving severe cognitive impairment and memory loss.
There’s no cure for Alzheimer’s although an early diagnosis can extend life expectancy from the average 3 to 10 years following diagnosis to 20 years or more.
Where no treatment stops or reverses the progression of Alzheimer’s and there are fully 30 million cases of this neurodegenerative disease worldwide, what do you if you find one of your parents is diagnosed with AD?
Before anything else, take the time to familiarize yourself with the stages of this progressive disease. Knowing what to expect and when can makes things marginally easier for you.
Stages of Alzheimer’s Disease
In the pre-dementia stage of the disease, symptoms such as memory loss are often chalked up to the natural aging process or perhaps stress.
Although short-term memory loss is one of the most common symptoms, a range of other cognitive problems can manifest. Depressive symptoms are also routine.
Known as the mild Alzheimer’s stage, the patient might still be able to live independently, drive and maintain their lifestyle even though the disease is starting to take effect.
Daily routines might not be impacted at the early stage of this disease.
As AD progresses, the patient will require increasing supervision for any tasks that are cognitively demanding.
At this stage, it’s all about making things easier on your loved one and ensuring their life stays as uninterrupted as possible.
During the moderate Alzheimer’s stage, the illness is slowly progressing and major damage to the brain cells is already underway.
The patient may show increased episodes of confusion and memory lapses such as forgetting how to tie shoelaces or how to use the remote control.
They may be unable to control urinary and bowel movements.
Sleep patterns start to become disturbed.
Some people might wander off and get lost outside even if they know the area and how to get home.
At this middle stage, the progressive nature of the disease starts rendering many everyday activities problematic.
It’s commonplace at this stage to move the patient from home care to other long-term care options.
This is called the severe Alzheimer’s stage.
Memory and cognitive function of the patient continues to deteriorate.
Communication is awkward and will degenerate further to the point of total speech loss.
Patients become unable to perform simple tasks independently while becoming increasingly vulnerable to pneumonia and other infections. The patient becomes almost entirely dependent on the caregiver at this latter stage of AD.
With that overarching timeline in place, what can you do to cope better if one of your parents is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease?
10 Ways to Cope When a Parent is Diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease
While the above overview of Alzheimer’s might remove some surprise from the equation, you’ll still need some help if your parent is diagnosed with this disease.
We’ll walk you through 10 ways to stay on track while improving the quality of their life:
- Get Your Parent Involved In Numerous Activities
- Educate Yourself About Alzheimer’s
- Make Sure There’s Around-the-Clock Care
- Become the Pillar of Strength
- Keep Conversation Amped Up
- Pack Plenty of Patience
- Help Your Parent Stay Social
- Join Support Groups
- Keep Dangerous Things Away
- Consider Assisted Living
1) Get Your Parent Involved In Numerous Activities
Try to increase the range of activities your parents is involved with. Keeping the brain active can stave off some of the ravages of AD.
From crossword puzzles at home, a game of bingo outside, using a computer or tablet, reading or even watching movies, staying mentally active is key.
Sometimes, this can be an opportunity to start up a new activity with your parent in order to spend more time together. You can turn a negative into a positive.
Bottom line: keep your loved one stimulated and active. This will slow down the insidious progress of Alzheimer’s.
2) Educate Yourself About Alzheimer’s
The more you know about the nature of Alzheimer’s disease and what to expect, the more effectively you’ll be able to help your parent manage it.
By becoming fully aware of all symptoms you can expect, you’ll remain much more able to spot these and act on them.
There’s a wealth of information available online about Alzheimer’s. As always when you’re researching anything medically-related, only use trustworthy sources.
You can also find plenty of help offline so whatever your preferred method, learn as much as you can about the disease.
3) Make Sure There’s Around-the-Clock Care
As the disease progresses, your parent will need ongoing and around-the-clock care.
A private nurse or caregiver of some form will become essential so make provisions for this.
Until that day comes, do the best you can to rally round as a family. Taking turns to care for your parent can lighten the load from any one individual while providing your parent with a rich and varied caring diet.
4) Become the Pillar of Strength
Having someone in the family with Alzheimer’s disease, especially if it’s a parent, can be a very depressing situation.
You might have been used to both of your parents being the pillars of strength supporting the entire household. Unfortunately, things can change. You need to step into a new role and become stronger to help your affected parent along with your siblings.
This can be one of the most challenging aspects of dealing with Alzheimer’s as you watch your parent descend from that role of strength into one of dependence and weakness.
Be strong, accept that life is always moving forward and do your best to assume that position of strength.
5) Keep Conversation Amped Up
In order to slow down the progression of speaking functions and memory loss, your parent should always have somebody to talk to.
Continually engage them with conversation about everyday events, the past and more abstract topics. As you do, you’ll not only stimulate them but you can also assess their ability to remember details. Pay particular attention to their recall of newer information.
You should speak without distraction from the TV, computer, music or any other gadgets.
Focus on talking and you can again spend some fruitful time with your aging parent while keeping them mentally fired up.
6) Pack Plenty of Patience
Living or caring for a parent with Alzheimer’s is tough and you’ll certainly need a whole lot of patience at times.
As the disease progresses, your parent will exhibit more forgetfulness not just with people, names and memories but also with how to use things. In time, they will lose the ability to eat and walk, they might develop depression and potentially become bed ridden.
From the pre-dementia stages right on through, try to take a step back when you’re dealing with your parent. Keep in mind how patient they have been with you over a lifetime.
As the disease progresses, you’ll see your parent become less and less independent so stick with them and try not to snap when things get frustrating.
7) Help Your Parent Stay Social
Alzheimer’s disease is a debilitating illness that will cause your affected parent to lose all cognitive abilities and memory over time
Letting the patient deal with the condition alone can hasten its progression.
Whatever your parent likes doing, chances are there’s a club for it.
From embracing favorite past activities to seeking new interests, the more you can encourage your parent to mix with others, the better.
8) Join Support Groups
Joining organizations and foundations that support the cause for Alzheimer’s disease can be uplifting as you will be surrounded by people in the same situation. Understanding will be uppermost.
These groups can help your family and your parent too in dealing with the illness and it’s a great chance to bond and socialize at the same time.
9) Keep Dangerous Things Away
Looking after people with Alzheimer’s disease can feel like watching over a toddler who is just starting to walk and touch everything he can grab hold of.
During the severe stage when the patient is starting to forget about things and their uses, leaving dangerous items like knives, match sticks, sharp and pointed objects around can be dangerous.
Take the same kind of precautions as you would with children and you’ll be perfectly fine.
10) Consider Assisted Living
There is likely to come a time when assisted living might become the best option.
Get in touch any time and we’ll be happy to help you with more information relevant to helping a parent with Alzheimer’s.