A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease is dreaded by all families. It signals a future filled with confusion, stress and sadness. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 5 million Americans now suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. With baby boomers aging every day, this number is projected to grow to over 13 million by 2050. With more and more families being affected by this dreaded disease, it’s important to know the warning signs and how to care for a family member who is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s
- Memory loss that disrupts daily activities. Are you having trouble remembering information you recently learned? Are you forgetting important dates, using memory aids or asking for information to be repeated multiple times? These could be warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease.
- Difficulty planning or solving problems. Are once familiar recipes now difficult to follow? Are you having trouble keeping track of monthly bills? Is it taking you longer to do things or are you having difficulty concentrating? The onset of difficulty with problem solving can be a sign of Alzheimer’s.
- Difficulty completing familiar tasks. Some people with Alzheimer’s disease have trouble driving to familiar locations, remembering rules to games or completing familiar tasks at work.
- Trouble with time and place. Alzheimer’s can make it difficult to keep track of dates, seasons and time. Some people with Alzheimer’s forget where they are or how they got there.
- Challenges with visual images and spatial concepts. Alzheimer’s disease can make it difficult to judge distance, determine colors and contrast, or even make it difficult to read.
- Problems with speaking or writing. Some people with Alzheimer’s disease have difficulty finding the words they want to say or write. They can have trouble joining a conversation or lose their place in a sentence while speaking.
- Misplacing objects. Alzheimer’s disease often causes people to misplace things like their keys, wallets or sunglasses. It can also make it difficult for people to retrace their steps so they can find those items.
- Using poor judgment. Some people with Alzheimer’s disease experience changes in behavior or decision making ability. Some elderly people with Alzheimer’s have been known to give away large sums of money to telemarketers or have poor judgment when making investments.
- Become reclusive. All of these symptoms often make people with Alzheimer’s unwilling to participate in social activities. If your loved one has stopped attending favorite events or going to work, they may be showing symptoms of Alzheimer’s.
- Changes in mood. Confusion, depression, fear, and anxiety are all associated with Alzheimer’s disease. If your loved one’s mood or personality has changed, please consult with their physician.
Preparing for a Visit to the Doctor
If you are concerned a loved one is showing the warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease, it is essential that you make an appointment with his or her healthcare provider. Be prepared to answer a wide range of questions about their health and emotional well-being. Some questions you should be prepared to answer include:
- Has their health, memory or mood changed? If so, how?
- When did you first notice these changes? Have they gotten worse?
- Are the changes more prominent at certain times of the day?
- How do you cope with these changes?
- Have any behaviors stayed the same?
- Do you have to repeat yourself or ask things multiple times?
- Does your loved one have difficulty remembering appointments, events or holidays?
- Is your loved one having difficulty writing checks, paying bills or maintaining their checkbook?
- Can they shop independently?
- Are they taking medications according to the prescription?
- Do they ever get lost while walking or driving?
You should also be prepared to bring a list of medications, supplements and medical conditions to your appointment.
Coping with an Alzheimer’s Diagnosis
If your loved one is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, you don’t have to face the future alone. There are many wonderful organizations and support groups out there to help and support you. To make the future easier, it is a good idea to get a plan in place for Alzheimer’s care. You should talk now about who will make financial and healthcare decisions for your loved one when they are no longer able. Consider establishing a power of attorney for finance and healthcare now while your loved one is still able to express their wishes. If your loved one’s illness has already advanced to the point where they can no longer make decisions for themselves, you may have to apply for guardianship or conservatorship.
It is important that you and other family members discuss strategies for care. Will there be a primary family caregiver? Will you seek out caregiving assistance from an elder care organization? The decisions you make regarding care will likely affect where your loved one lives. Will they be able to continue living at home? Will they move in with a family member? Will they move to an assisted living facility?
“Ensuring your loved one with Alzheimer’s has adequate care is essential. Family caregivers need breaks to rest and refresh. As the illness progresses, long term care is often necessary. Professional at home caregivers make it possible for individuals with Alzheimer’s to continue living at home where they are most comfortable while receiving the best possible care,” says Larry Meigs, President and CEO of Visiting Angels.
Caring for Your Loved One
As you care for your loved one, it can help to develop a routine and structure for their day. This can bring comfort to your loved one. It is also best if you can let them know what to expect throughout the day. Providing visual and auditory clues, such as opening curtains in the morning or playing quiet music in the evening, can help them to feel more comfortable and to know what to expect. Of course, keeping them involved with daily activities is also helpful. While your loved one won’t be able to do everything they used to, helping him or her find activities that are safe and healthy can provide purpose for their day.
As you communicate with your loved one, there are some simple tips to keep in mind. First, keep it simple. Don’t rattle off a long list of questions. Ask one question at a time. Give them time to respond. Address them by name. Keep an eye on their body language and yours. If they appear tense, you might need to back off and give them a minute to gather themselves and get comfortable. If you’re having a bad day, you might also need to take a break. Your own frustrations can cause anxiety in your loved one.
“Respite care for family caregivers is so important. Family caregivers have a very difficult job. They need time to rest, recharge and to do the things they enjoy. Our Alzheimer’s respite care makes it possible for family caregivers to get time away so they can better care for their loved ones,” says Larry Meigs, President and CEO of Visiting Angels.
Caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s is no small task. You are likely to have many questions and concerns. You don’t have to face the future alone. Your doctor’s office, the Alzheimer’s Association and other support groups can provide a wealth of information to help you face the future with confidence.