It can be an overwhelming experience when faced with the possibility that a loved one may have a condition marked by cognitive decline, such as Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. Approximately one-in-six people over the age of 85 develop some form of dementia, and there are increasing cases of younger senior citizens being diagnosed, so more families are having to deal with the challenges that come with caring for someone with the disease.
While it is frightening at first, the more Alzheimer’s information you and your inner circle of family and friends have at your disposal, the more prepared you will feel to meet those challenges. If your loved one is regrettably diagnosed with the condition, you will fully understand how the disease will impact your loved one and how their care requirements will change over time.
There are some initial steps that you can take after the diagnosis is confirmed, such as making the home environment safer for the person living with dementia or Alzheimer’s, however you will need to gather more information as to long-term Alzheimer’s care as their condition progresses. We’ve compiled some Alzheimer’s information to help you to recognise the symptoms, when to get a diagnosis, and the steps to take thereafter.
How to recognise the warning signs
The early signs of dementia are very subtle, but you may have an inkling that something is not right especially if you spend a lot of time with your loved one. The symptoms are also not the same from person to person but you may see one or more of the following signs:
- Does your loved one ask repetitive questions or retell stories within minutes of the first mention?
- Do they forget the names of recent acquaintances or younger family members, such as grandchildren?
- Are memory lapses growing progressively worse (such as affecting information that was previously very well-known)?
- Is this happening more frequently (several times a day or within short periods of time)?
- Is this forgetfulness unusual for the person (such as sudden memory lapses in someone who once prided themselves on never needing grocery lists or an address book)?
Other than these warning signs you may see a noticeable mood shift or change in their personality, although it is difficult to attribute this to a dementia symptom as many other medical conditions can be linked to this too. If this is in combination with other dementia symptoms such as being withdrawn, anxiety, showing signs of frustration and depression, or even aggression, then the prognosis may more likely be Alzheimer’s or dementia.
You may also notice that your loved one now struggles with familiar tasks they used to complete with ease; they may abandon the activity altogether when previously they may have delighted in, or even excelled at it. They may appear less interested in their hobbies or stop doing things like preparing meals.
There are many other signs such as frequently misplacing their things, poor or impaired judgement, bad money management, being disoriented in familiar environments, getting easily lost in public places, or struggling to follow along with a discussion. Most types of dementia are progressive, which means these kinds of symptoms will start slowly and gradually worsen over time. You will notice that all Alzheimer’s information out there encourages getting an early professional evaluation because it is a treatable condition and an early diagnosis will give your loved one the maximum benefit from the available treatments. It also gives you more time to plan for their future.
Getting a professional diagnosis
When you start to notice the more obvious signs of cognitive decline in your elderly loved one, such as a decline in their short-term memory, more spells of confusion or behaviour changes, it is important to take them to be medically assessed by a professional. The following specialists should give you an accurate diagnosis:
- Physician: Your elderly loved one should already be seeing a Geriatric Physician at least once a year, or at the intervals discussed with your GP. This will enable them to monitor and evaluate your loved one’s progress on vital functions like medication and dosage, blood pressure, sugar levels and cholesterol. A physician focuses on diagnosis, treatment and prevention of diseases and disability, providing a holistic analysis of your loved one.
- Neurologist: These doctors specialise in the diagnosis of diseases of the nervous system. In order to diagnose dementia or Alzheimer’s in your loved one, they will most likely rely on a brain scan. A neurologist will also be able to provide excellent Alzheimer’s information as well as recommendations of the continued care and treatment for your loved one.
- Psychiatrist: It is advised to have a psychiatrist evaluate your loved one’s mental health, especially if they are showing signs of problematic behaviours that are affecting their quality of life, such as depression, anxiety, or depression.
It is very important that you accompany your loved one to all these doctors’ visits, and that they never go alone. They must always feel that they are surrounded by people who care for them, and someone they can trust. Also, if there are tests or procedures to be done or results of previous ones, then it is important that there is someone there who can understand the information and help them to feel more at ease. Being in the room with your loved one’s doctors also gives you the opportunity to ask questions about anything you don’t know or understand and pick up valuable tips or information about Alzheimer’s disease.
Finding a care facility
Moving your loved one into a specialised dementia care facility is a difficult decision, but also the best choice to make as you will have greater peace of mind knowing that they are receiving the right kind of care. Home care is simply not possible for everyone, and even if it is, it’s not always the best option. Living with dementia has its own set of side effects which include physical, cognitive, and emotional elements, which all need to be worked on for holistic treatment. Loved ones with dementia have many remaining abilities that a dementia care specialist would see and capitalise on.
There are a lot of nursing homes that advertise that they accept residents with dementia or Alzheimer’s, however they do not offer the level of specialised care that dedicated dementia nursing homes offer. It has been proven that a structured programme of cognitive stimulation therapies, when coupled with the right pharmacotherapy, can have lasting positive effects on patients living with dementia.
Cognitive stimulation is a leading treatment for people living with dementia, and it requires doctors and carers trained specifically for treating those with memory-related illnesses. Cognitive stimulation activities could include baking or cooking, cleaning and simple home tasks, arts and crafts (including knitting or painting), organisational tasks (such as stacking, packing, or dividing items based on categories), music therapy, gardening, and puzzles (such as jigsaw puzzles, crosswords, and other simple games). These cognitive rehabilitation therapies help in preventing dementia sufferers from becoming frustrated, lonely and depressed, as well as reduce cognitive decline where possible. Activities and treatments must be tailored to your loved one’s interests, to maximise their engagement and help them feel fulfilled in the golden years of their lives.
Dementia care facilities that specialise in treatment for loved ones with dementia offer both pharmacological and non-pharmacological treatment for dementia and dementia related side effects. Medication Management is extremely important as someone who has memory impairment or dementia will forget to take their medication regularly, and also run the risk of accidentally overdosing or underdosing, which can be extremely dangerous. At a private dementia care home there will be medication management to ensure that your loved one gets the correct dose every day.
Join a support group
If your loved one has been diagnosed with dementia, it can be a very emotional and unsure time for you and your family. This is why it is encouraged that families of dementia patients join a support group to equip them with the Alzheimer’s information they need and ways to sustain themselves when they face the difficulties of caring for a loved one with dementia. A dementia or Alzheimer’s diagnosis is life-changing for both those who are diagnosed and those close to them, that is why it is so important to create a ‘village’ for you and your family that can support you through this difficult time.
Livewell Villages hosts Dementia Support Groups for families dealing with dementia; these groups are facilitated by trained individuals and feature guest speakers who provide essential Alzheimer’s information based on specific topics.
Here is what you can expect at a Livewell Dementia Support Group meeting:
- Discuss practical information on caregiving problems and possible solutions
- Talk through challenges and ways of coping
- Share feelings, needs and concerns
- Learn about resources available in your community
Contact Livewell Villages
For more Alzheimer’s information about long-term memory care for yourself or a loved one, please contact one of our villages based in Bryanston and Somerset West: https://livewell.care/contact/