Independent Life

Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are conditions which worsen as time goes on. As a caregiver, it is important to know when to seek care for a loved one who suffers from one of these conditions. Watch for the signs below which can let you know when it’s time to get help.

Input from trusted sources

The feedback you hear from family and friends on the outside can be valuable to a caregiver. They will be able to observe your loved one from a different viewpoint than you, which can provide you with priceless input. Listen to their comments regarding changes in behaviors, how they view your loved one’s thought process, and the content of conversations with your loved one. Worsening forgetfulness, disorientation, memory, confusion and repetitive speech can all be signs your loved one is in need of additional assistance.

Diminished quality of life

Depression and anxiety frequently occur in patients who suffer from Alzheimer’s and dementia. These and other mood disorders can lead to isolation, loss of appetite, changing sleep patterns, lack of interest, and increased agitation. These are all signs that your loved one’s mental health may be deteriorating. Your loved one may require intervention more often, or may seem to be suffering from constant emotional distress. When this occurs, you as the caregiver and your loved one will experience a diminished quality of life. Enlisting the help of professionals can provide the support you need to improve quality of life for yourself and your loved one.

Routine activities become difficult

If your loved one is having more and more trouble completely daily life activities, they are likely in need of more help; this may mean you need the support of an additional caregiver, as it is important for you as a caregiver to not become overwhelmed, and to have time for your own life. Changes in household upkeep are one sign that your loved one is having difficulties managing their daily routine. They may also be forgetting to take necessary medications on schedule, and may require help with managing their medication schedule.

Caring for a close friend or family member can be very trying, even if you’re only minimally helping out with care. Personality changes and behavior issues in a patient can be difficult to deal with. And the hardest issue you’ll have to cope with is slowly losing the person you care for and love.

You may have already received a great deal of advice regarding caring for your loved one with Alzheimer’s. It is important that you remember that not all advice is good advice. As an Alzheimer’s caregiver, below are a few things that you should never do.

1. Do not allow yourself to be in denial

Acknowledging that your loved one has Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia can be very difficult for a caregiver. Denial is quite common, which can lead to your loved one’s symptoms being ignored. When a caregiver is in denial about their loved one’s Alzheimer’s or dementia, they may ignore symptoms of the disease and other health symptoms which can be caused by these conditions, and the caregiver may forego taking their loved one to a physician for a workup, which can delay the beginning of treatment.

2. Quit asking, “Do you remember?”

It can be tempting to ask a loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia, “Do you remember?” As if this question could stimulate their memory. Unfortunately, it is rare that the memory can be jogged, and most times, the patient has forgotten this event. Instead of asking if your loved one remembers an event, phrase it like this; “I remember when” and go on to tell the story.

3. Never contradict or argue

Due to the nature of the disease, often a patient with Alzheimer’s or dementia may say something that makes no sense at all, such as a far-fetched story or claiming to be someone they are not. Arguing is useless, as the patient will stick to their story, because that is what they believe at the time. It is a better solution to be agreeable rather than to argue. Just agree, change the subject, and move on.

4. Don’t stop visiting

There will come a painful time as Alzheimer’s progresses when your loved one may no longer seem to recognize you. Many relatives quit visiting at this point, which can be a detriment to the patient. In fact, they may recognize you but be unable to express it. They may enjoy a visit regardless of whether or not they truly know who is visiting. While it can be incredibly painful for you, a visit can still be stimulating and positive for your loved one.

If you or a family member has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, you likely have many questions. One question is likely about whether or not you can drive. Your ability to drive impacts many areas of your life, and many people want to be able to continue to transport themselves for as long as possible.

In most cases, patients diagnosed with early stage Alzheimer’s disease or a mild case of dementia can still drive themselves. Generally, a driving evaluation must be taken to clear the patient for driving. As Alzheimer’s disease progresses or in cases of moderate and severe dementia, the patient should not drive. Medical professionals may be obligated to inform the Department of Motor Vehicles if their patient’s medical condition could possibly affect their driving.

It is recommended that drivers with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia be re-evaluated every six months. If the patient fails to pass their driving evaluation, their license can be withdrawn immediately. Occupational therapists, clinicians and other professionals may be able to perform driving evaluations.

A driving evaluation consists of two parts: a clinical evaluation and a road test. During the clinical portion of the dementia patient’s evaluation, the practitioner will review the patient’s medical history and their driving record. Vision will be checked to eliminate any vision issues which could impair the patient’s ability to drive. Tests will be performed to assess the patient’s memory and judgement, as well to test their responses. The patient’s general motor function will be tested to assess their strength, flexibility and range of motion all factors that will impact their ability to drive.

The road test will be performed by the dementia patient’s occupational therapist, and a driving instructor may also be present. During the driving test, the patient’s handing, judgment, and ability to problem solve while driving will be monitored. Also, a general traffic assessment of driving skills will be performed.

If the Alzheimer’s or dementia patient passes the evaluation, they should still be monitored on an ongoing basis. Family and friends should do so, as symptoms of these conditions can advance rapidly.

There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, and no way to prevent it. Certain genetic factors have been shown to increase one’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s, and other risk factors have been identified. In efforts to reduce your risk of developing this disease, know the risk factors and what you can do to counteract them.

The most common risk factors attributed to Alzheimer’s disease include:

  • Cardiovascular health issues
  • High blood pressure
  • Head trauma
  • Stroke
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Smoking
  • Mid-life obesity
  • Sleep apnea
  • High blood sugars, but in the normal range

You can eliminate many of these risk factors through lifestyle changes, helping to lower your chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease later in life. Eating a balanced and nutritious diet can improve your overall health, and manage some of the conditions mentioned above. Despite marketing claims, there are no dietary supplements that have been proven effective for reducing one’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia.

Exercising regularly may be your strongest tool in managing your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, according to some research studies. Research conducted by Rush University Medical Center neurologists shows that all types of daily activity may help lower one’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s at any age. Activities include:

  • Walking
  • Swimming
  • Cleaning
  • Cooking

Activity isn’t limited to traditional exercise; activity of any kind on a daily basis will keep your mind active. Other studies have shown that a daily walk of forty minutes can reverse shrinking of the brain. Additionally, individuals who experience a mild cognitive impairment may be able to increase memory and executive function through resistance weight training twice per week for six months or more.

Mental stimulation is also important for lowering your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia. Reading, writing, and solving puzzles are great ways to keep your mind active. Social stimulation is also crucial. Working, volunteering, traveling, and participating in social clubs are important for developing personal relationships and providing emotional support.

Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia affect a staggering number of seniors in the United States. Alzheimer’s is the fifth most common cause of death for persons over age 65 in this country out of the top 10 leading causes of death, it is the only one without a cure, a way to prevent it, or a way to yield progression. It affects one in eight people age 65 or older, and nearly half of the population over age 85.

With such a large number of our population affected by these ailments, caregivers and family members naturally have questions. Below are answers to common questions you may have about Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

1. Is there a difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s disease?

While these terms are often used interchangeably, there is a difference between them. Dementia is a broader term which describes over 100 different conditions which occur when the brain’s nerve cells are not functioning as they should. Dementia can be caused by strokes, known as vascular dementia. Changes in behavior, judgement, and memory, along with the capability to plan and finish activities are symptoms of dementia.

Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia; the most common type, in fact. It accounts for 60 percent to 80 percent of dementia cases. Brain changes resulting from the disease will go on to affect bodily functions, including movement.

Some professionals believe that as many as 45 percent of dementias are a mixed type, as in the patient is affected by Alzheimer’s disease in addition to another form of dementia. Other forms of dementia include Frontotemporal dementia, Parkinson’s disease, and Lewy Body dementia.

2. Can I be tested for Alzheimer’s disease?

There is no test which can tell you for sure whether you have Alzheimer’s but diagnosing probable Alzheimer’s disease can be done with about 90 percent accuracy using neuropsychological and cognitive testing to rule out other factors contributing to memory loss. Newer research has shown that amyloid plaques may play a role in Alzheimer’s disease; a new form of PET scan can be done to show if these plaques exist, but many people who have the plaques present never develop Alzheimer’s disease, leading to a high false positive rate for this test.

3. Why is early diagnosis so critical?

While Alzheimer’s disease has no cure, early diagnosis offers more benefits to the patient. Cognitive decline should be evaluated right away. Benefits of early diagnosis include:

  • The option to join a clinical trial
  • Treatments for certain forms of cognitive decline such as depression or vitamin B12 deficiencies
  • Early medical and therapeutic approaches can be used sooner to manage symptoms
  • Spreads awareness to caregivers and treatment professionals who can begin procuring supportive services for the patient, as well as allows the patient to plan for their future
  • Can increase awareness regarding combinations of medications which worsen symptoms
  • Alerts caregivers that the patient may begin requiring assistance to perform daily tasks like cooking, running errands, and managing their medications

Living independently while affected by declining mental ability can be scary for the patient as well as their loved ones. Those who suffer from dementia or Alzheimer’s experience a decline in memory and other cognitive skills which can reduce their ability to perform necessary daily activities, such as eating or bathing. If you wish to remain in the comfort of your home but require assistance with daily tasks, home senior care can assist you.

Senior care in the home has proven to keep more dementia an Alzheimer’s patients living safely at home as per their wishes, compared to patients not receiving in-home care. It has also shown to provide patients with a higher quality of life, compared to those receiving standard assistance services. Senior care in the home can provide loved ones needed peace of mind as they struggle to watch their family members decline.

Many of the symptoms of dementia and Alzheimer’s can result in dangerous conditions when the patient lives completely alone. These include:

  • Weight loss, due to the inability to remember to eat, cook meals, or go grocery shopping.
  • Infection and sores, due to forgetting to follow a regular hygiene routine.
  • Getting lost, because the patient cannot remember how to get to previously-known destinations while driving or walking.
  • Identity theft, as keeping track of a purse or wallet becomes difficult as short-term memory declines.

Having a caregiver provide senior care for your loved ones at home can be of great benefit to those suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. A caregiver is specially equipped with the necessary skills to keep your loved ones safe and health. Your caregiver can assist with daily hygiene, preparing meals and feeding, and perform other tasks to help you based on the areas in which you or your loved one is struggling.

As Alzheimer’s and dementia progress, you or your loved one may require more frequent or increased care. Working with an in-home care agency can help make sure your needs are met at throughout every stage of the disease.

Alzheimer’s disease affects 1 in 8 people who are over the age of 65 and 1 in 2 people who are over age 85. This is the most common cognitive impairment, yet it can be easily denied or overlooked by the patient and their loved ones. For this reason, it is important to be diligent in recognizing the early symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. Below are symptoms you should watch for.

1. Poor judgement
If a loved one has recently began making uncharacteristic or questionable decisions, this can be a sign of early-stage Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia.

2. Poor short-term memory
Short-term memory is lost well before long-term memory, so those suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s will have trouble remembering recent events while being able to recall the minute details of things that happened years ago. They may also repeat themselves because they don’t remember telling you before.

3. Has a hard time paying bills and keeping records
Those suffering from early-stage dementia or Alzheimer’s may have trouble with numbers and calculations. Paying bills and balancing accounts can become very difficult and frustrating. It may also take far more time to do these tasks as compared to in the past.

4. Driving issues
While people with dementia or Alzheimer’s may drive well in the early stages of the disease, they may have difficulty navigating even familiar surroundings, becoming lost often in areas they know. They may have minor accidents because they are acting out of habit, and not with full awareness of other drivers and surrounding areas.

5. Difficulties with daily tasks
Alzheimer’s can affect one’s ability to make decisions about the tasks which are a part of their day-to-day routine. They may stop cleaning the house, preparing meals for themselves, and even cease with their regular hygiene routine. This can be dangerous as it can lead to severe weight loss and infection.

6. Consistent confusion
If a loved one regularly struggles to remember the date, day of the week, time of day, where they are, or what season it is, it could be a sign of early-stage Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.

7. Trouble with conversations
Frequently using an incorrect word or struggling to find the right word is a symptom of early Alzheimer’s. Someone who is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s or dementia may have trouble keeping up with a conversation.

8. Losing things
Someone who suffers from early-stage Alzheimer’s or dementia may have trouble finding where they left certain items, as they are unable to retrace their steps to find what they are looking for. You may also find that they are placing items in the wrong location, such as placing the milk in a cabinet instead of the refrigerator.

9. Personality and mood changes
Persons who are affected by early Alzheimer’s and dementia may display changes in their personalities and mood. They may become paranoid, especially regarding money or theft. You may notice they are more depressed or anxious. They may have withdrawn from their normal social activities, rarely leaving their room or home.

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