If you have a loved one who is suffering from Alzheimer’s, you understand well the challenges and emotional turmoil of caring for them. Alzheimer’s is on the rise, and it’s estimated that over 6.2 million over 65s live with the disease.
What causes Alzheimer’s, what are the symptoms, and how can you take care of someone that has it?
There is much debate over what causes Alzheimer’s, but age is the biggest risk factor. The changes that take place in the brain as someone gets older can contribute to the shrinkage of parts of the brain as well as the breakdown of activity within the cells. The most common form of dementia is vascular dementia. Over time the arteries harden, and this can lead to less oxygen being carried to the brain. If the cells don’t get the oxygen they need, they eventually die, leading to brain impairment and symptoms of dementia and Alzheimers.
Genetic factors play a part in whether you develop Alzheimer’s. It’s more likely you will develop the disease to you share a specific gene with family members.
There is ongoing research as to whether Alzheimer’s is linked to other health conditions such as heart disease, blood pressure, and cognitive conditions.
Symptoms of Alzheimer’s can be diverse and sporadic. In the early stages, someone may be unable to recall recent events such as marriages, births, or a trip to doctors, etc. It’s important to bear in mind that getting older will inevitably cause a decline in clear and fresh memories and won’t necessarily point to dementia.
As the condition worsens, people will lose items, forget names and struggle to find words during a conversation. This can be distressing for loved ones, and it’s important to research Alzheimer’s to be fully aware and equipped to help.
Getting a diagnosis for your loved one can be tricky, but the first step is to make an appointment with the GP. The doctor will ask questions about day-to-day life to find out how they manage daily tasks such as washing and dressing if they can cook a meal and go shopping alone. He will likely do a physical examination and some standard blood and urine tests to rule out other causes. If they are otherwise healthy, the GP will refer them to a specialist who will be able to investigate further and provide an official diagnosis.
He will likely carry out specific assessments, and CT or MRI scans that will identify any brain abnormalities.
If Alzheimer’s is diagnosed, it can be distressing, and you feel overwhelmed about how you will care for your loved one and what to expect.
Care and Support
When faced with a diagnosis, many sufferers feel vulnerable and confused, so it’s important for loved ones to learn all they can about the illness to support them through it. It’s likely to cause an emotional upheaval to all involved, and talking to a trusted friend about concerns and how you feel about it will help enable you to support the sufferer.
Someone with Alzheimer’s will be experiencing the world in a different way. Be understanding and compassionate about their feelings and be patient and kind.
Long Term Care
As the condition progresses, you may be wondering how to care for them long term. If it’s a parent, discuss with your family if you can care for them at home. If not, you may need to investigate options for long-term care. If you’re lucky enough to live in the sunny state of California, you could search up assisted living Los Angeles for information on senior communities with care packages included. They provide amenities such as all-inclusive dining, pools, community events, and 24/7 care and assisted daily living for complete peace of mind.
The Good comes with the Bad
It’s good to remember that the sufferer will have good days and bad days. When you talk with them, always be calm and don’t criticize or get impatient when they can’t remember. Ask them questions, discuss in detail things they do remember. Sit close to them, maybe hold their hand, so they feel cared for even if confused.
If they talk about family members such as their mum or dad, they may be feeling anxious. Reassure them you are there, and they are safe. If they want to know where their parents are, you can deflect a little by saying you’re not sure or they are away. Try not to say they’re dead because this may traumatize the person if they feel they believe this is the first time they’ve heard the information. You could ask questions about the person such as ‘what did they do for work? Where did you go on holiday? This will transport them to the past and hopefully allow them to access nice memories.
Alternatives to Talking
Sometimes a conversation is too overwhelming, and you should focus on activities that they enjoy. Go for a stroll and enjoy the sun and fresh air, or you could engage in some crafts such as painting or puzzles. Listen to an old favorite song; this will stir positive and happy feelings and calm the mind.
You should also be aware that, at times, sufferers may display negative behaviors such as aggression and emotional distress. This can often be triggered by the environment and cause them to feel overwhelmed. If you notice they are getting agitated in a particular place, try and remove them from the situation. Loud noises and busy areas can overstimulate the brain and cause them to feel vulnerable and fearful.
If the routine is disrupted sometimes, sufferers will appear difficult and uncooperative it’s crucial for the caregiver to approach the situation carefully. Explaining calmly why things are different and providing reassurance will help them stay calm.
There are often community training programs designed to help caregivers of Alzheimer’s with support. These classes are useful, and you can meet others who have similar challenges providing the opportunity to exchange ideas and discuss ways to help.
Living with and helping others with Alzheimer’s can be emotionally draining, but you can care for your loved one with the right help and support, enjoy a good quality of life, and stay positive.