Specialized Support for People With Alzheimer’s or Dementia
Scientists don’t yet fully understand what causes Alzheimer’s disease in most people. The causes probably include a combination of age-related changes in the brain, along with genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors. The importance of any one of these factors in increasing or decreasing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease may differ from person to person.
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive brain disease. It is characterized by changes in the brain—including amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary, or tau, tangles—that result in loss of neurons and their connections. These and other changes affect a person’s ability to remember and think and, eventually, to live independently.
The greatest known risk factor for Alzheimer’s and other dementias is increasing age, but these disorders are not a normal part of aging. While age increases risk, it is not a direct cause of Alzheimer’s.
Most individuals with the disease are 65 and older. After age 65, the risk of Alzheimer’s doubles every five years. After age 85, the risk reaches nearly one-third.
Another strong risk factor is family history. Those who have a parent, brother or sister with Alzheimer’s are more likely to develop the disease. The risk increases if more than one family member has the illness. When diseases tend to run in families, either heredity (genetics), environmental factors, or both, may play a role.
Scientists know genes are involved in Alzheimer’s. Two categories of genes influence whether a person develops a disease: risk genes and deterministic genes. Alzheimer’s genes have been found in both categories. It is estimated that less than 1% of Alzheimer’s cases are caused by deterministic genes (genes that cause a disease, rather than increase the risk of developing a disease).
While age, family history and heredity are all risk factors we can’t change, research is beginning to reveal clues about other risk factors we may be able to influence through general lifestyle and wellness choices and effective management of other health conditions.
You can help support your loved one with Alzheimer’s by learning more about how the condition unfolds.
The stages don’t always fall into neat boxes, and the symptoms might vary — but they can be a guide and help you plan for your friend or relative’s care.
During this stage, Alzheimer’s is not detectable and no memory problems or other symptoms of dementia are evident.
The senior may notice minor memory problems or lose things around the house, although not to the point where the memory loss can easily be distinguished from normal age-related memory loss. The person will still do well on memory tests and the disease is unlikely to be detected by loved ones or physicians.
At this stage, the family members and friends of the senior may begin to notice cognitive problems. Performance on memory tests are affected and physicians will be able to detect impaired cognitive function.
People in stage 3 will have difficulty in many areas including:
People with stage three Alzheimer’s may also frequently lose personal possessions, including valuables.
In stage four of Alzheimer’s, clear-cut symptoms of the disease are apparent. People with stage four of Alzheimer’s:
During the fifth stage of Alzheimer’s, people begin to need help with many day-to-day activities. People in stage five of the disease may experience:
On the other hand, people in stage five maintain functionality. They typically can still bathe and toilet independently. They also usually still know their family members and some detail about their personal histories, especially their childhood and youth.
People with the sixth stage of Alzheimer’s need constant supervision and frequently require professional care. Symptoms include:
Stage seven is the final stage of Alzheimer’s. Because the disease is a terminal illness, people in stage seven are nearing death. In stage seven of the disease, people lose the ability to communicate or respond to their environment. While they may still be able to utter words and phrases, they have no insight into their condition and need assistance with all activities of daily living. In the final stages of Alzheimer’s, people may lose their ability to swallow.
When you’re a caregiver for a person with Alzheimer’s disease , one of your main goals is to help your loved one do as much they can on their own. This helps them keep their sense of independence. Break down tasks into small steps, or even write out easy-to-follow directions. (webmd.com)
Make it easier for them to dress on their own. Lay out their clothes in the order they put them on, or hand them one piece of clothing at a time. (webmd.com)
If they want to wear the same clothes every day, don’t fight it. Buy 3 or 4 sets of them.
Make sure they have loose clothes that are easy to put on. Shorts and pants with elastic waistbands and slip-on shoes are good. Skip shoelaces, buttons, and buckles. (webmd.com)
“Many communities have flowing floor plans, so residents don’t feel like they’re pacing back and forth,” says Gewirtz. “These designs can help residents be redirected easier. They’re also more intimate and not as overwhelming.”
To help residents enjoy the outdoors safely, some memory care communities have interior courtyards.
Helping with chores can boost self-esteem. Ask them to dust, sweep, fix things, sort socks, fold laundry, read a recipe for you, or measure when you cook.
Stay active. Take a walk together every day to keep muscles strong, boost mood, and help with sleep. If they can’t get around well, they may be able to use a stationary bike or resistance bands. (webmd.com)
Playing word games, doing puzzles, talking about current events, or gardening can fuel thinking and memory. Listening to music (and playing “name that tune”) can also bring back fond thoughts. Be sensitive — if you sense they feel frustrated or upset by an activity, try something else.
If an activity isn’t working, it might just be the wrong time. Try it again later.
The outcome of chores or games doesn’t matter. The time you spend together and the activities that give joy or meaning to your loved one’s day do. (webmd.com)
Those struggling to communicate with a person who has memory loss are not alone. As many as four million people in the US may have, and, as our population ages, that number is expected to increase. Anyone who is a senior caregiver is likely to be affected and will need to understand how to cope with what is happening.
Memory loss associated with aging, dementia, and Alzheimer’s typically doesn’t happen overnight. Slowly, little-by-little, it sneaks up, until one day, family members realize that they can no longer communicate in the same way with the person they’ve known for years. They suddenly can’t rely on their words and their sentences don’t match the situation.
Because we cannot see the disease—the way we see a broken arm—it’s even more confusing when caregivers see how their patient and/or loved one will have good and bad days. The days when they’re alert and clear-headed make a caregiver hopeful. Then the bad days come, and family members and caregivers feel the pain of losing their patient and/or loved one all over again. This slow and normal progression of the disease makes communication a major challenge for caregivers.
The steps described provide an excellent framework to use on your visits as you approach and converse with someone with Alzheimer’s or other dementia, and are especially relevant during the middle stages of the disease.
Deciding whether or not an Alzheimer’s patient should go to a nursing home can be extraordinarily difficult. Caregivers may feel guilty or anxious about placing a loved one in a nursing home – they may feel that they are taking the easy way out or letting the patient down.
However, nursing homes don’t have to be seen as a last resort. Today’s Alzheimer’s care facilities have improved radically, and many offer an exceptional level of care, focused on maximizing the patient’s quality of life.
© 2020 Braley Care Homes, Inc.