Alzheimer’s Disease: After the Diagnosis
Aging and the common ailments that come with it are things we all learn to accept or work with to the best of your abilities. But what if you or a loved one is diagnosed with a progressive disease such as Alzheimer’s? How do you explain it to children, grandchildren and other family and friends? What do you do to prepare for the inevitable future this disease brings?We have gathered some advice on how to share the news, tips on handling daily tasks for yourself or your loved one with the disease, and some explanations about living and care options for when they become necessary.
Alzheimer’s Disease is an advanced form of dementia that affects more than 5 million older Americans and is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. Those with Alzheimer’s live an average of eight years after their symptoms become noticeable to others, but survival can range from four to 20 years, depending on age and other health conditions.
Basically, Alzheimer’s is an illness of the brain that causes large numbers of nerve cells in the brain to die. The disease is progressive over several years, affecting a person’s ability to remember things and think clearly. People with Alzheimer’s become forgetful and easily confused and may have a hard time concentrating. They may have trouble taking care of themselves and doing basic things like making meals, bathing, and getting dressed.
The Alzheimer’s Association is a wonderful place to start in your search for answers and help. They provide reliable information, education, referral and support to millions of people affected by the disease. Another great resource on everything from how to handle daily tasks to legal and financial help to memory-care living info and links is the National Institute on Health’s (NIH) Seniors Health: Alzheimer’s webpages.
What It All Means
According to the NIH, Alzheimer’s varies from person to person, progressing faster in some people than in others, and not everyone will have the same symptoms. Alzheimer’s takes many years to develop, becoming increasingly severe over time. As the disease gets worse, people need more help. Eventually, they require total care.
Alzheimer’s disease consists of three main stages: mild (sometimes called early-stage), moderate, and severe (sometimes called late-stage). Understanding these stages can help you care for your loved one and plan ahead.
While there currently is no cure for Alzheimer’s, there are treatments that can help abate symptoms for a limited time. For caregivers, finding a support group in which members are taking care of someone who is in the same stage of Alzheimer’s as the person you are caring for can be extremely helpful.
Telling Loved Ones
Alzheimer’s is hard to keep a secret. Others can often sense something is wrong before they are told. When the time seems right, be honest with family, friends and others that are a part of your loved one’s life. Help them understand what Alzheimer’s is and what you and the person you are caring for are going through. People will want to help, but may not know how to ask or know your exact needs. Suggest what they can do to help.
This guide from the NIH can help family and friends understand how to interact with the person who has Alzheimer’s, including how to handle young children and teens who may be living with or frequently around the person. Here are a few starting points to share with them:
- Help them realize what the person can still do and how much he or she can still understand.
- Give them suggestions about how to start talking with the person. For example, “Hello George, I’m John. We used to work together.”
- Help them avoid correcting the person with Alzheimer’s if he or she makes a mistake or forgets something.
- Help them plan fun activities with the person, such as going to family reunions or visiting old friends.
As the disease progresses, it becomes increasingly difficult for a person with Alzheimer’s to perform even simple daily tasks. As a caregiver, you will want to help your loved one maintain a sense of independence and dignity as he or she becomes dependent on you and other family members or caregivers.
Help them limit challenges and ease frustration by:
- Establishing a routine, but allowing flexibility within it
- Taking breaks and realizing it may take longer to complete tasks
- Allowing your loved one to do as much as possible with the least amount of assistance
- Providing choices every day, but only a few at a time, such as asking whether they’d like to take a walk or go to a movie, have a hot or cold beverage, etc.
- Providing clear, concise instructions
- Reducing distractions
Coping with Alzheimer’s can be a long journey for everyone involved, but with these tips and guidance, you, your family and friends will be well-prepared for understanding and caring for your loved one, and he or she will be able to live with dignity and independence for as long as possible.
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From independent living to assisted living and memory care, your loved one can age in place with caring, professional staff, numerous amenities and activities, and assistance every step of the way.
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