Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia, a condition that impairs a person’s ability to think, concentrate, and remember. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s disease makes up as much as 60 to 80 percent of all cases of dementia.
Alzheimer’s is a progressive condition meaning that it continues to worsen. It usually involves memory impairment early on, and over time, people with Alzheimer’s disease need help with daily activities.
At first, the symptoms of Alzheimer’s may be subtle. They may be dismissed as simple forgetfulness, but over time they get worse. Common symptoms are:
- Often forgetting something you just learned
- Trouble concentrating and resolving problems on your own
- Trouble doing things you’ve always known how to do, like driving to familiar places or using simple electronics like the TV remote
- Obvious confusion about dates, the time of day, and even the time of year
- Problems recognizing colors or reading
- Trouble with speech, words and communicating with others
- Losing items and not being able to remember where they are
- Being careless with finances and personal hygiene, often showing poor judgment
- Becoming more isolated and spending less time with family and friends
- Having emotional outbursts or reacting inappropriately in some situations
- Possible hallucinations or delusions, including paranoid ideation
A healthcare provider can generally diagnose Alzheimer’s by asking questions about symptoms and doing a few tests including conducting a health history, reviewing family history of dementia, performing a mental status test and ordering an MRI or a PET scan of the brain.
While several medicines are available to help slow and manage the symptoms of Alzheimer’s, no medicines can cure it. Cholinesterase inhibitors, like donepezil and memantine, are commonly prescribed. These two types of medicines work differently, but they both affect chemicals in the brain related to memory and learning.
When you’re a caregiver for someone with Alzheimer’s, you can help make sure that your loved one does things to stay as emotionally and physically healthy as possible. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, a person with Alzheimer’s disease needs to:
- Learn how to manage and understand his or her diagnosis
- Cope with fear and frustration as symptoms get worse
- Maintain a healthy diet and exercise regularly
- Get plenty of sleep
- Limit alcohol intake
- Take all medicines prescribed by their healthcare provider
A caregiver might also assist with other tasks, including:
- Grocery shopping, cooking and feeding
- Bathing and getting dressed
- Paying bills, picking up prescriptions and driving to healthcare providers’ appointments
- Planning for long-term care (such as a nursing home or special memory care unit) when it becomes necessary
As you care for someone with Alzheimer’s, keep these things in mind:
- It’s important to take care of yourself. Stay healthy and ask for help from others when you need it.
- Be kind, slow, concise and clear when talking with someone with Alzheimer’s.
- Alzheimer’s can cause anger, hostility, violence and wandering away. You will need to be prepared to deal with these situations.
- A time will come when it’s no longer safe for a person with Alzheimer’s to drive. You will need to have a difficult conversation about giving up the car keys.