Dealing with memory impairment and other challenges that present themselves with Alzheimer’s or dementia can be scary. It may feel like you or a loved one is losing something too precious for words . It’s more important than ever to have a strong support system before and after diagnosis. This support system can include online resources, understanding of the disease, and educated caregivers. Our caregivers are compassionate, mature, active men and women who we carefully match to a senior’s specific needs and personality. This way, our in-home care feels like getting a little help from your friends®.
What is Alzheimer’s?
The first step to dealing with Alzheimer’s is understanding. With millions of people affected by the disease, many of us know the toll Alzheimer’s takes on friends and loved ones. Alzheimer’s disease is a brain disease that affected as many as 5 million Americans , according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This number is expected to triple by 2060 to a staggering 14 million. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by these numbers but remember that this means there are people who can understand what you’re going through if you or a loved one is struggling with Alzheimer’s. You can build a strong support system.
According to the National Institute on Aging (NIA), abnormal clumps called plaques and tangles are one of the main features of Alzheimer’s. In addition, there is the loss of connections between nerve cells (neurons) in the brain. As the NIA describes, “neurons transmit messages between different parts of the brain, and from the brain to muscles and organs in the body.” Neurons are vital to how our bodies function, so as they die the damage can be widespread. “The damage initially appears to take place in the hippocampus, the part of the brain essential in forming memories. As more neurons die, additional parts of the brain are affected, and they begin to shrink. By the final stage of Alzheimer’s… brain tissue has shrunk significantly” (NIA).
According to the CDC, the symptoms of the disease usually appear after age 60 and the risk increases with age. According to the CDC, the number of people living with the disease doubles every 5 years beyond age 65.
What is dementia?
Consider dementia a smaller piece to the larger puzzle that is Alzheimer’s. According to the NIA, Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia among older adults. However, Alzheimer’s isn’t necessarily always the cause of dementia. The NIA states that “Dementia is the loss of cognitive functioning – thinking, remembering, and reasoning- and behavioral abilities to such an extent that it interferes with a person’s daily life and activities.” Dementia may be accompanied by another disorder. In fact, according to the NIA, it’s common for people to have a combination of two or more disorders, at least one of which is dementia. This is called mixed dementia.
Seniors with memory loss and dementia have a broad range of needs. It takes a great deal of patience and kindness to guide them through this stage of life. Enlisting the help of a senior caregiver can provide many benefits, from social stimulation to an extra set of eyes and ears in the home. For example, as occasional forgetfulness or lack of focus starts to be more pronounced, the caregiver can report this to the family and/or the senior’s physician. This allows them to track the progression of the condition and make changes to the senior’s care as appropriate.
The Three Stages of Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s disease generally progresses slowly through 3 stages, each with their own set of challenges. According to the NIA, damage to the brain starts a decade or more before memory and other cognitive problems appear, in what’s known as the preclinical stage. After diagnosis, it’s hard to say how long each stage will last, considering the Alzheimer’s Association notes the average person with Alzheimer’s lives four to eight years after diagnosis, but can live as long as 20 years depending on other factors. Understanding where you or a loved one are in the progression of Alzheimer’s will give you a better idea of the kind of assistance you or a loved one may need. It’s always okay to ask for help.
“The first symptoms of Alzheimer’s vary from person to person. For many, decline in non-memory aspects of cognition, such as word-finding, vision/spatial issues, and impaired reasoning or judgement, may signal the very early stages of Alzheimer’s disease” (NIA). According to the Alzheimer’s Association, common difficulties resulting from the early stage include:
- Problems coming up with the right word or name
- Trouble remembering names when introduced to new people
- Challenges performing tasks in social or work settings.
- Forgetting material that one has just read
- Losing or misplacing a valuable object
- Increasing trouble with planning or organizing
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, in the middle stage symptoms will be noticeable to others and may include:
- Forgetfulness of events or about one's own personal history
- Feeling moody or withdrawn, especially in socially or mentally challenging situations
- Being unable to recall their own address or telephone number or the high school or college from which they graduated
- Confusion about where they are or what day it is
- The need for help choosing proper clothing for the season or the occasion
- Trouble controlling bladder and bowels in some individuals
- Changes in sleep patterns, such as sleeping during the day and becoming restless at night
- An increased risk of wandering and becoming lost
- Personality and behavioral changes, including suspiciousness and delusions or compulsive, repetitive behavior like hand-wringing or tissue shredding
At the late stage, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, individuals may:
- Need round-the-clock assistance with daily activities and personal care
- Lose awareness of recent experiences as well as of their surroundings
- Experience changes in physical abilities, including the ability to walk, sit and, eventually, swallow
- Have increasing difficulty communicating
- Become vulnerable to infections, especially pneumonia
After consulting with your physician regarding the stages of Alzheimer’s or early stages of dementia, you should contact Seniors Helping Seniors® in-home care services to see how we can be of assistance. According to the CDC, there is currently no known cure for Alzheimer’s disease, but medical management can improve quality of life for individuals living with the disease and their caregivers.
Living with Alzheimer’s or dementia
At the early stages of Alzheimer’s or dementia, there needs to be acceptance. Accept the things that you or a loved one can’t do and accept a helping hand when you need one. It will only make your path easier. Everyday things that seem simple and routine, like cooking or remembering to take medication, could cause bigger health concerns if they are neglected. It just takes one time to forget to turn off the stove and you or a loved one could be in danger. The right caregiver can work side-by-side with you on these things. Preparing meals as a team, going to the grocery store together, and getting reminders of when to take medication. Seniors Helping Seniors® caregivers can reliably provide a wide variety of services in the comfort of your own home. Each office is independently owned, so the services offered vary by location.
Being able to have a friend you can count on always feels good. So does the ability to get out and about, whether it’s a casual stroll or running errands. Maintaining independence is an achievable goal with quality in-home care.
According to the CDC, death rates for Alzheimer’s disease are increasing, unlike heart disease and cancer death rates that are on the decline. More and more people are going to find that they need assistance when caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s and dementia. Caring for a loved one with dementia can be very stressful. Our caregivers help shoulder that burden so you can focus on spending more family time with your loved ones. Our team members understand the impacts of memory impairment, and are trained in how to care for a senior with dementia and how to be of assistance to you.
When memory loss, dementia, or Alzheimer’s pose serious challenges to the health and happiness of a loved one and are negatively impacting their relationships with everyone close to them, Seniors Helping Seniors® in-home care can be a valuable component of your support network. Feel free to also check out some of our valuable resources online to find even more strength through support.