The person who used to care for you now needs care himself or herself. Family relationships are often flipped as parents become childlike and children take care of their parents. A caregiving spouse may also take on the all-consuming, full-time role of unpaid caregiver for a loved one with Alzheimer’s.
More than 6 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s in 2022. By 2050, this number is projected to rise to nearly 13 million.1 Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia among the elderly. It usually affects people gradually. But, over time, it can take quite a toll on your loved one and his or her entire network of family members and caregivers.
How do you know if someone has Alzheimer’s? Common signs of mild Alzheimer’s include
One of the first signs of the disease is the loss of short-term memory. For example, someone may forget recent conversations or events. But some loss of memory is common as we age. The normal, minor, age-related loss of memory is known as “age-associated memory impairment” (AAMI). AAMI is different from dementia, including Alzheimer’s, in that it does not progressively worsen, nor does it tend to disable people the way Alzheimer’s does.
Alzheimer’s is a slowly progressing disease. It starts with mild memory loss and ends with severe brain damage. The course of the disease varies, as does its rate of progression. On average, people with Alzheimer’s live for four to eight years after they are diagnosed, but can live as long as 20 years, depending on other factors.
Middle stage – As Alzheimer’s progresses, the changes become more noticeable. Those afflicted by the disease will need more help with day-to-day living. They may need to be reminded about eating, washing or changing clothes. They may fail to recognize people or confuse them with others. They may become easily upset, frustrated or aggressive.
Other middle-stage symptoms include
Severe or late stage – In the most advanced stage, a person with Alzheimer’s will become totally dependent on others for nursing care. He or she may be unable to recognize familiar objects, surroundings or even close relatives.
Other late-stage indications include
No single factor has been identified as the cause of Alzheimer’s. A combination of factors may contribute, including age, genetics, environment, diet and overall health. A diagnosis is often made by ruling out other causes of symptoms. There is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s. But some drug treatments may ease the symptoms or slow the disease’s progress among people with mild or moderate dementia.
When caring for someone with Alzheimer’s, it is good to try to help him or her live as independently as possible for as long as possible. Although you may be tempted to do things for them, people with dementia are more likely to retain a sense of self-worth if they are given the chance to do things on their own. You can help by providing support if necessary, including emotional support and reassurance. As the dementia progresses, the person dealing with the disease may need more help with everyday activities, including washing, bathing and dressing. Eventually, you may have to consider external resources.
Although Alzheimer’s has no cure yet, research has indicated that lifestyle changes can lessen the chances of developing the disease or delay its onset. The Alzheimer’s Association’s “Maintain Your Brain” campaign advocates physical and mental exercise, good nutrition and generally healthy habits.
If you are concerned that you or someone close to you could have Alzheimer’s, see your family doctor. Your general practitioner may ask a specialist, such as a psychiatrist or neurologist, for help in the diagnosis. An early diagnosis could help you or your loved one plan and identify sources of advice and support and may lead to earlier access to treatments.
There is no single diagnostic test for Alzheimer’s. But a complete medical and neurological evaluation will help rule out other possibilities such as infection, vitamin deficiency, depression, thyroid problems or brain tumors. A brain scan — such as computerized tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) — may help indicate what is happening in the brain. Other types of medical tests include a blood test, urinalysis and an electroencephalogram (EEG), along with memory and thinking skills tests.
Medical care for people with Alzheimer’s can be provided at home by relatives or by health care professionals such as social workers, nurses, therapists and case managers. It also can be provided in an adult daycare or nursing home. As the disease progresses, you or the person close to you may explore all of these options.
Because Alzheimer’s involves a predictable decline in a person’s mental capacity, it is important to use the time wisely before you or your loved one is no longer able to make important decisions. Once a person with Alzheimer’s is no longer mentally competent, it is too late to designate someone to make decisions regarding health care, financial planning and estate planning.
Consider taking these steps soon:
1 Source: Alzheimer’s Association. 2022 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures
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All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however LPL Financial makes no representation as to its completeness or accuracy.
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