Alzheimer’s disease, also known as senile dementia, is a progressive, neurodegenerative disease that causes problems with memory, thoughts, understanding, and behavior. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Alzheimer’s is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States. At this time, there is no known cure for Alzheimer’s which makes early detection and diagnosis of this condition extremely important.
The medical causes of Alzheimer’s are not entirely understood. Researchers believe that Alzheimer’s leads to a malfunction in brain protein activity, which prevents brain cells (“neurons”) from working correctly. This disruption in functionality causes a sequence of toxic events which result in damaged neurons that eventually die. To learn more about the progressive stages of Alzheimer’s, please visit Understanding the Stages of Alzheimer's Disease and Stages of Dementia: The 3-Stage and the 7-Stage Models.
To learn more about the progressive stages of Alzheimer’s, please visitUnderstanding the Stages of Alzheimer's Disease and Stages of Dementia: The 3-Stage and the 7-Stage Models
Research has shown that multiple factors can contribute t Alzheimer’s with some being preventable and others inevitable. The highest risk factor associated with Alzheimer’s is age, with most individuals being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at ages 65 years or older. However, while Alzheimer’s is associated with aging, it is important to note that it is not a normal part of aging and is a medical condition which warrants diagnosis and treatment by a medical provider.
In 2021, it is estimated that 6.2 million Americans aged 65 years and older are living with Alzheimer’s (i.e., 1 in 9 Americans 65+ years old). As the number of people with Alzheimer’s climbs each year, it is estimated that 12.7 million Americans will be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s by 2050.
Alzheimer’s is a progressive, neurodegenerative disease that leads to increasing disability over time.
Understanding the early warning signs of Alzheimer’s and seeking prompt medical attention is very important if you are concerned that someone you love may have Alzheimer’s.
Being a caregiver for someone with Alzheimer’s can be very challenging and costly, but there are resources, support networks, and classes available to help caregivers.
Although symptoms can vary, many people first notice memory problems which impacts their capacity to function independently. Additional warning signs associated with Alzheimer’s disease include:
This may include forgetting important events or dates, or asking the same questions repeatedly.
Disorientation with places or time.
People with Alzheimer’s may lose track of days, seasons, or lapses of time. They may also forget where they are or how they got there.
Trouble carrying out routine tasks.
Individuals with Alzheimer’s may have difficulty completing familiar household tasks, such as doing laundry or making a grocery list.
Difficulty with solving problems or planning.
For example, some people with Alzheimer’s may have trouble following simple instructions, paying bills, or working with numbers.
Problems with losing items.
This may include being unable to recollect where to find them or storing items in unusual places. For instance, a person with Alzheimer’s may use the refrigerator to store their keys.
Changes in speaking or writing abilities.
People with Alzheimer’s may have problems joining or following a conversation. They may also show increased challenges with their vocabulary and having trouble remembering common words. These issues can often lead to withdrawal from social activities.
Challenges with visual interpretations and spatial reasoning.
People with Alzheimer’s might have trouble with their vision or the ability to interpret what they are seeing. They may have difficulty with spatial reasoning and measuring distance, which can be very dangerous, especially while driving.
Personality or mood changes.
Individuals with Alzheimer’s may experience changes in their mood or personality causing them to be more anxious or depressed.
Impaired or poor judgement.
People with Alzheimer’s may have decreased decision-making capabilities or may have poor judgement in areas where they did not have problems previously. For instance, someone with Alzheimer’s may wear clothes that are inappropriate for the weather or may fail to groom themselves properly.
For more information on Alzheimer’s symptoms and warning signs, please visit Alzheimer's Disease Symptoms
Provide structure and consistency. For individuals with Alzheimer’s, providing structure, with a good amount of flexibility, is extremely important. It can be helpful to establish a daily routine with some level of consistency, but to also be understanding that some adjustment may be necessary for those days when things may not be going so well.
Allow for extra time in completing tasks. Another helpful tip is to ensure you schedule things with extra buffer time, because some tasks may take longer than they used to and breaks may be needed during tasks.
Allow for as much independence as is safely possible, especially when completing routine tasks. For example, maybe set out the toothbrush, toothpaste, but allow the individual to perform their own dental hygiene as they are able. For individuals needing more assistance, it may be helpful to provide one-step instructions in addition.
Limit the number of choices when making decisions. While trying to promote independence, it is important not to put the individual with Alzheimer's in a situation where they are overwhelmed with too many choices. Instead, if you are presenting choices to someone with Alzheimer’s it is best to limit the choices to two or three items.
Promote safety by making sure to be aware of fall and fire safety. For fall safety, be sure to keep the floors free of clutter and small items that may be tripped on. To reduce fire safety issues, keep matches and lighters out of reach and make sure to have functioning smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in the home.
Cut down on distractions especially while completing tasks and communicating. It can be challenging for anyone to focus on a task with the TV on or the radio playing, but it is even more challenging for someone with Alzheimer’s and can lead to irritation and frustration..
You do not always have to reorient. A common question from caregivers of individuals with Alzheimer’s is whether or not to reorient a person with Alzheimer’s. While the school of thought in the medical community used to be that it was always important to reorient individuals with Alzheimer’s, more recent research suggests that as long as there are no imminent safety concerns, there is no need to reorient.
For more tips for caregivers, please visit Help and Support for Dementia Caregivers
Caring for someone with Alzheimer’s can be very stressful, exhausting, and isolating, but it can also be rewarding and empowering. Below are some helpful resources for caregivers.
For a summary of the resources available through each organization, please visit the Senior Link webpage at 10 of the best free resources for dementia caregivers.
The Alzheimer’s Association’s 24/7 Helpline
24/7 Helpline: 1.800.272.3900
Family Caregiver Alliance – Dementia Caregiver Resource
The National Alliance for Caregiving – Brain Health Conversation Guide
Cleveland Clinic – Healthy Brain
Healthy Brains by Cleveland Clinic
Alzheimer’s Foundation of America – Caregiving Resource
Caregiver Action Network’s Family Caregiver Toolbox
Family Caregiver Toolbox
Dementia Friendly America
Dementia Friendly America
Memory Cafe Directory | Dementia-Friendly Outings for All!
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs – Dementia Care
Dementia Care (including Alzheimer's Disease) - Geriatrics and Extended Care
Dementia Support Groups, such as ALZConnected.org and Caregiver Nation
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