What should you do if you think someone close to you may have Alzheimer’s disease? Alzheimer’s disease is a brain related disease that affects thinking, memory, language, and behavior. It is the most common form of dementia among the elderly affecting approximately 5. 4 million American men and women.
According to Alzheimer’s Disease Education and Referral Center (ADEAR), several common signs of mild Alzheimer’s disease are:
- repeating a question again and again
- repeating a story word for word
- forgetting how to do basic everyday activities, such as cooking, making repairs, or playing card games
- becoming unable to pay bills or balance a checkbook
- getting lost in familiar places
- neglecting to bathe or shower, wearing the same clothes repeatedly, and insisting you are not
- becoming confused and forgetting the names of people, places, recent events, and/or appointments
- relying on others to make decisions that you previously would have made yourself
Caregivers should try to help the patient live as independently as possible for as long as possible. People with the disease are more likely to retain a sense of self-worth if they are given the chance to do things on their own. As the disease progresses, the person may need more help with everyday activities, including washing, bathing, and dressing. Eventually, you may have to consider bringing in outside help to assist with caregiving and provide a break for yourself.
Research through the Alzheimer’s Association suggests that lifestyle changes can lessen your chances of developing the disease or delay its onset. Some of their suggestions include:
- Physical exercise – Stay active, walk every day, work out.
- Mental stimulation – Read, converse, work on crossword puzzles, play Scrabble, play cards, take a class.
- Nutrition – In addition to a well-rounded diet, take a multivitamin that includes folic acid and vitamins E and C and eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
- Good health habits – Maintain a healthy body weight, keep your blood pressure and cholesterol level low, and avoid smoking.
Early diagnosis of the disease could help lead to treatments that could slow the progress of the disease. You should start by consulting with your family doctor if you are concerned that you or your loved one is exhibiting the signs listed above.
There is no single diagnostic test for Alzheimer’s disease. Your doctor will most likely need to bring in a specialist to help with a complete medical and neurological evaluation to rule out other possibilities such as infection, vitamin deficiency, depression, thyroid problems, or brain tumors. The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America suggests that doctors conduct brain scans — such as a computerized tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). These scans may help indicate what is happening within the person’s brain. Other medical tests include blood work, urinalysis, an electroencephalogram (EEG), along with tests on the person’s memory and thinking skills.
ADEAR’s website provides many tips for caregivers and options you may consider for medical care through health care professionals, such as social workers, nurses, therapists, and case managers. As the disease progresses, you may want to consider care provided in an adult daycare or nursing home.
A critical step to take at the beginning is to prepare for the time when the person is no longer able to make important decisions about his or her health care and financial matters. Once the patient is no longer mentally competent, it is too late to designate someone to make his or her decisions regarding health care, financial planning, and estate planning. ADEAR recommends taking these steps early on:
- Advance directive – This could be a power of attorney or a health care proxy. A power of attorney will allow someone else to make key decisions regarding financial and estate planning. A health care proxy will empower family members or close friends to make health care decisions as needed.
- Estate inventory – Before conducting estate planning, take a snapshot of the resources the person has available, including income and assets, health insurance, and community resources.
- Estate planning – Have an estate planning expert create or update a will and other estate planning documents such as a living will or trust.
- Alzheimer’s disease is different from normal age-related slight memory loss. Look for a number of signs that could indicate Alzheimer’s disease before assuming anyone has the disease.
- It is believed that staying active physically and mentally and eating nutritiously can ward off or delay Alzheimer’s disease.
- If someone close to you has a mild case of Alzheimer’s disease, now is the time to take legal and financial actions, such as drawing up a power of attorney or a health care proxy, before the person’s mental capacity has declined.