In 1983, President Ronald Reagan designated the month of November as Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, and it is still recognized today as such. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, there were less than two million people with the disease at the time of that designation, and that number has grown to more than five million in past years.
What is Alzheimer's disease?
While there is still no cure, no drugs or treatments for Alzheimer's, researchers continue looking for ways to help with this disease, which is a type of dementia leading to problems with memory, thinking, and behavior. Accounting for 60 to 80 percent of all cases, Alzheimer's is the most common form of dementia, and the sixth leading cause of death in the US.
While people ages 65 and old are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s, there are still many under the age of 65 who experience early-onset Alzheimer's.
Memory issues may be mild in the early stages, but the disease tends to progress to levels where patients lack awareness of their environment and may no longer even be able to communicate. This disease worsens over time, eventually reaching the stage where accomplishing daily tasks can be too much for the patient.
Knowing the symptoms of Alzheimer's may help you determine if a loved one may be developing the disease. Discuss any symptoms with their physician...
Memory Loss – Forgetting things already known / learned, as well as dates and/or events. Asking for the same information over and over again may also be a cause for concern.
Trouble Planning or Solving Problems – Taking longer to finish tasks which were previously accomplished more quickly. Following directions (even a simple recipe) may become too difficult.
Confusion with Time or Place – Losing track of time, or patients forgetting where they are or even how they got there.
Misplacing Objects – Retracing steps, which would have been possible in the past to find missing items, becomes a challenge. Forgetting objects, along with dates and events may lead to accusatory behavior, thinking that others may have stolen what can no longer be found.
Changes in Mood or Personality – Shifting moods and personality become evident as change may create confusion, suspicion, or even depression.
How to help...
While Alzheimer’s has no cure, there are still ways to help a loved one with this disease.
Keep a Daily Routine – Alzheimer’s patients like consistency. Avoid confusion with clear expectations.
Don’t Overstimulate – Keep things simple. Say one thing at a time. Present only one idea so that the patient can understand it the best they are able.
Be Reassuring – Strive to make the patient feel safe and comfortable. Simply saying the words, “You are safe with me” can sometimes be enough to put them at ease.
Don’t Yell or Argue – As frustrated as you may become, imagine how the patient feels. They can no longer grasp what is going on inside their own heads. Don’t let frustration lead to yelling or arguing. Patients need you to remain a calming voice for them.
Caring for an Alzheimer’s patient can become more challenging as the disease progresses. Be aware that patients may sometimes present a danger to themselves by forgetting to turn off the stove or wandering.
An important thing to remember is that you can seek help for yourself and the person with Alzheimer's. Being a caregiver may feel overwhelming at times. By reaching out, you can help yourself AND your loved one.
If you have questions or concerns related to Alzheimer's disease, or any other medical condition, please alert us. Medical Associates of the Shoals is here to help.