If your loved one is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, you know how devastating this condition can be. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) characterizes Alzheimer’s disease as a brain disorder that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills and eventually affects a person’s ability to perform even simple tasks. Most people with Alzheimer’s see symptoms develop later in life, with experts suggesting that more than six million Americans – most age 65 or older – may have the disease. It is currently ranked as the seventh leading cause of death in the U.S. and is the most common cause of dementia among older adults, says the NIH.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the disease typically progresses in three stages: early, middle and late, or mild, moderate and severe. Each stage presents with different symptoms, and each stage comes with unique challenges for caregivers and patients. Each person experiences dementia symptoms and progresses through the stages differently, but symptoms generally worsen over time and it’s good to know what the next phase will bring.
An Alzheimer’s diagnosis is not only difficult for your loved one, it can be very hard on you. As a caregiver, you’ll also face numerous challenges as the condition progresses. In this blog, we outline some of the general signs that your loved one may exhibit in the early stage of Alzheimer’s and suggest ways you can support your loved one.
Early Alzheimer’s. There are several symptoms that may be signs of early Alzheimer’s. Your loved one may have memory loss that disrupts their daily life, such as forgetting where they left the keys, or have challenges in planning or solving problems. Your loved one may find it difficult to complete familiar tasks, become confused about time or place and develop new problems in speaking or writing. Some with Alzheimer’s have trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships and exhibit decreased or poor judgment. They may neglect personal hygiene and pay less attention to grooming. In addition, Alzheimer’s patients might withdraw from work or social activities, and they may experience changes in mood and personality changes.
Age-related changes are normal, but your loved one will have to consult with a physician to determine if their symptoms are more than typical aging. Here are some ways you can support a loved one as he or she progresses through the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.
Provide encouragement and support. In the early stage, you and your loved one can make decisions about the future, including legal, financial and long-term care planning. You can help your loved one take advantage of new treatments and support services.
Reduce stress. Identify the areas that cause your loved one to feel stressed. If grocery shopping has become difficult, consider accompanying them to the store or getting groceries delivered. If your loved one has difficulty getting to the drug store or remembering to take medications or which pills to take throughout the day, take advantage of a pharmacy that delivers their medication. For example, PersonalRX not only creates custom, clearly-labeled pill packs that group medications for easy dosing, but also delivers prescriptions to your loved one’s home every 30 days.
Discuss support needs. Ask your loved one about the kind of support he or she would like you to provide. Talk about the frustrations he or she may be experiencing and formulate a plan.
Consider hiring an in-home aide. Explore the possibility of hiring a home health care aide to come in for a few hours several times a week, to play cards, engage in conversation or do light housekeeping. If your loved one is open to this assistance, it can help keep their mind busy, provide companionship and give the family caregiver a regular break. Once the aide is coming on a regular basis, it is typically easier to increase the assistance as the disease progresses. If you are dealing with a loved one who is resistant to the idea of outside help, it is important to overcome this hurdle as soon as possible before he or she begins to need it most.
As a caregiver, you’ll want to look for signs of disease progression and adjust your approach and increase your level of support accordingly. In part two of this blog series, we’ll focus on recognizing the symptoms of moderate and severe Alzheimer’s and offer ways you can provide optimal care for your loved one.