Caring for Alzheimer's Disease Patients

Dealing with Dementia

Getting a diagnosis of Alzheimer's Diseases can seem devastating. Although nothing can reverse the progress of this mysterious disorder, there are ways to deal with the emotional and practical problems Alzheimer's and its symptoms can present.

Anxiety About Alzheimer's Disease

Anxiety about Alzheimer's is normal, especially if you've seen someone you love suffer from this disease. Knowing as much as possible about Alzheimer's can help you feel more informed and in control.

According to the Alzheimer's Society, Alzheimer's Disease is the most common type of dementia among older Americans. The disease causes brain cells to self-destruct, eventually leading to significant cognitive impairment. People over 60 are most at risk for this disease. The National Institute of Health estimates that it affects more than five million Americans. Between ages 65 and 74, about three percent of people develop Alzheimer's. It's much more common over age 85, affecting as many as half of these older adults.

What to Do if You're Concerned

If you see warning signs in yourself or in someone you care about, it can be difficult to know how to deal with the situation. On a practical level, it's important that the individual consult with a doctor right away. Early detection is key for several reasons:

  • There are many medications that can improve the quality of life in Alzheimer's patients.
  • Dementia may be caused by something else, such as medications, life events, and other diseases. A doctor will need to rule out these other issues.
  • Early treatment can provide relief and assist you or your loved one in living independently for a longer period of time.
  • In addition, you will have more time to decide on the future and make necessary plans.

Coping with the Emotional Impact of Diagnosis

As much as possible, try to remain calm as you wait for your doctor's appointment and any test results. If you do hear bad news from the doctor, you'll need to acknowledge and deal with the emotional impact of an Alzheimer's diagnosis.

You can expect to feel grief after the diagnosis. This may take the form of anger, sadness, denial, or some combination of these emotions. Keep these tips in mind as you emotionally process the diagnosis:

  • Consider speaking with a psychologist to work on emotional coping strategies.
  • Take time for yourself and try to engage in activities that are rewarding for you.
  • Practice techniques, such as meditation and exercise, to help you deal with your stress.
  • Work to establish a support group of people who care about you and your situation.
  • Give yourself permission to feel however you feel right now. There is no wrong way to feel about this diagnosis.

Symptoms of Alzheimer's Disease

Memory problems caused by this disease begin slowly. At first, it may be easy to overlook them or to pretend that they are a normal part of aging. It's not unusual for an older adult to forget a familiar person's name now and then or to forget having paid a bill or what was on the grocery list. However, with Alzheimer's Disease, these symptoms begin to happen more and more often.

As the disease progresses, the person may forget how to do familiar tasks. Even simple things like cooking a meal or balancing a checkbook may become difficult. In later stages, people even forget how to comb their hair or brush their teeth. People with late-stage Alzheimer's need round-the-clock care. They have trouble speaking and understanding. They may wander away from home and forget how to get back. They may be anxious or angry, especially if they have difficulty understanding what is happening around them. All of these symptoms can present a challenge for caregivers and individuals with Alzheimer's.

Coping with Forgetfulness

One of the hallmark symptoms of Alzheimer's is forgetfulness. In the early stages, there are things you can do to deal with this symptom on a practical level:

  • Don't keep the disease a secret. Explain the situation to family and friends, so they will understand if the person with Alzheimer's forgets their name or misses an appointment.
  • Help your loved one write down all new information as soon as it is presented. A little notebook can be a handy tool for remembering phone numbers, errands, and other items.
  • Always put things back where they go. It can be challenging for anyone to find an object that's been left in the wrong spot, but this can be even more disconcerting for someone with Alzheimer's.
  • Use sticky notes to leave messages on objects. These messages can include information on how to operate kitchen equipment or what a cupboard may contain.

Coping with Declining Self-Care Abilities

As the disease progresses, certain self-care tasks like balancing a checkbook or cooking a meal may become challenging. These tips can help you cope:

  • Hire an accountant to handle the individual's personal finances. Loved ones may be able to help as well, but they are also offering support in other areas.
  • Have the individual's driving tested. Although giving up a driver's license can be difficult emotionally, it can prevent accidents and injuries. Many communities offer transportation for those who need it, and loved ones can also help.
  • Cook several meals together ahead of time and freeze them in individual portions. That way, the individual with Alzheimer's doesn't have to worry about putting together a balanced meal every day.
  • When self-care skills become significantly impaired, consider an assisted living facility or a live-in home health aide. Wandering off, incorrectly performing dangerous tasks, and mixing up medications are signs that round-the-clock care is needed.

Coping with Personality Changes

Alzheimer's Disease symptoms sometimes include anxiety, aggressiveness or violence, insomnia, or depression. These feelings can be bewildering and distressing for both the patient and caregiver. Keep these tips in mind to help:

  • Talk to the doctor about psychiatric drugs, which can sometimes help. A doctor can help you understand what drugs are available and what to expect from treatment.
  • Get help from a psychologist who can provide insight into the behavior and give you communication tools to help.
  • Remember that these changes do not reflect the true personality of the individual. They are part of the disease.

Getting the Support You Need

If you're caring for someone with Alzheimer's Disease, support is available. You can find a support group at your local hospital or medical center, or you can locate an Alzheimer's Association support group near you. Community and family support are an essential part of dealing with Alzheimer's Disease.

Caring for Alzheimer's Disease Patients