More than five million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s Disease. For those with a family member or loved one diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, it can be a confusing and challenging time. While it’s a very well-researched disease, you might feel inundated with information when you try to wrap your brain around the facts.
We’ve broken down ten of the most common frequently asked questions regarding living with Alzheimer’s.
1. Are Alzheimer’s and dementia the same disease?
While Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia, they are not one and the same. Dementia is a syndrome, an umbrella term for any decline in mental or cognitive ability (e.g., thinking, remembering, reasoning). There are multiple types of dementia. Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease that is a form of dementia.
2. What are some of the warning signs or indicators of Alzheimer’s?
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, there are several early signs and symptoms of the disease:
- Memory loss that disrupts your daily life– forgetting recently learned information, important dates, and events
- Challenges in planning or solving problems– difficulty developing and following a plan, or trouble concentrating
- Having trouble completing familiar tasks at home or work– everyday tasks take longer than they once did
- Confusion about time or places– losing track of time, forgetting how you arrived at a location
- Difficulty understanding visual images and processing spatial awareness– vision issues with reading, judging distances or determining color/contrast
- Problems with speaking or writing– trouble following or joining a conversation, repeating yourself, issues with word finding
- Losing items and inability to retrace steps– misplacing things, difficulty figuring out how to find them, might accuse others of moving or stealing items
- Poor judgment– changes in decision-making abilities, paying less attention to personal hygiene
- Social withdrawal– avoiding social interactions, or activities you once enjoyed
- Mood swing and personality changes– Feeling confused, suspicious, depressed, or anxious, becoming easily upset
3. Are there any risk factors for developing Alzheimer’s?
Smoking has been confirmed as a risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s. There are also links between those who have had high blood pressure and chances of developing the disease. Physically inactive or generally unhealthy people (overweight, limited exercise, poor diet) are believed to be more likely to develop Alzheimer’s as well.
4. What are the stages of Alzheimer’s?
The progression of the disease is generally broken up into three stages:
Stage 1: Mild, Early Stage
While some patients might be functioning independently, they begin to experience minor memory loss, decreased energy, and mood swings. Patients also have difficulty performing tasks, communicating, organizing or planning events. This can lead to a loss of spontaneity, or becoming withdrawn and depressed, as well as feeling frustrated or angry.
Stage 2: Moderate, Middle Stage
The middle stage can often be the longest, lasting years. During this stage, it becomes clear that the patient is becoming disabled. Patients start to require help in carrying out tasks. They might begin to confuse words or objects, or stop performing routine activities like bathing. Moodiness or depression during this stage may increase. Patients often start wandering or getting lost, feeling confused by locations. Delusions and compulsions can also develop, such as suspiciousness, repetitive behavior, wringing hands, or shredding tissues.
Stage 3: Severe, Late Stage
Late stage Alzheimer’s is when patients completely lose the ability to care for themselves. Communication, memory and cognitive functions significantly worsen. Patients can have trouble controlling bodily functions. They may be unable to walk, sit, stand, or even swallow. Weakened physical states or near-constant bed rest leaves patients vulnerable to infections or other diseases, especially pneumonia.
5. What are the most common treatments for Alzheimer’s?
As a complex disease, treatment is very patient-dependent. Approved medications to treat cognitive symptoms include cholinesterase inhibitors or memantine, depending on the stage. They are treatments that focus on behavioral issues or trouble sleeping. There are also alternative treatments focused on herbal remedies or supplements.
6. Is Alzheimer’s more prevalent in women than men?
Yes, women represent almost two-thirds of all Alzheimer’s patients.
7. What is the best way to communicate with an Alzheimer’s patient about their diagnosis?
Never keep information regarding prognosis from an Alzheimer’s patient, it may be difficult to share information with a loved one, but honesty is the best foundation. Having patience is vital when communicating, especially directly after being diagnosed. Give them time to accept the situation, caregivers should also take time to accept their loved one’s diagnosis.
From there, encourage them to educate themselves on the disease. Openly discuss how you would like to move forward and handle the situation. You may want to reach out to other loved ones and family for help navigating the next steps. There are many resources for those that need support with an Alzheimer’s diagnosis:
- Family resources from Vineyard Henderson
- Downloadable educational resources from Alzheimer’s Association
- Resources for Caregivers from the National Institute on Aging
8. Is depression common?
Yes, up to 40 percent of Alzheimer’s patients struggle with depression. As a progressive, degenerative disease it can be difficult to remain positive and hopeful. If you’re a caregiver learn the signs of depression so that you can help your loved one get the appropriate help that they need.
9. How can I find resources to help with care for Alzheimer’s?
Here are a few reputable organizations that can help you find resources for Alzheimer’s care:
International Council on Active Aging®, an association that leads, connects and defines the active-aging industry, supports organizations and professionals that develop wellness environments and services for adults over 50.
Argentum is the leading national association exclusively dedicated to supporting companies operating professionally managed, resident-centered senior living communities and the older adults and families they serve. Argentum member companies operate senior living communities offering assisted living, independent living, continuing care, and memory care services to older adults and their families.
The Alzheimer’s Association is the leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer’s care, support, and research. Our mission is to eliminate Alzheimer’s disease through the advancement of research; to provide and enhance care and support for all affected, and to reduce the risk of dementia through the promotion of brain health.
Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health provides diagnosis and ongoing treatment for patients with cognitive disorders and support services for family members who care for them.
10. Are there financial resources available for those with struggling with the cost of care?
Yes, there are several organizations and resources available to help with the cost of memory care for Alzheimer’s patients. The following organizations offer assistance with finding financial help:
- Eldercare Locator 1-800-677-1116 (toll-free)
- National Council on Aging 1-571-527-3900
- Family Caregiver Alliance 1-800-445-8106 (toll-free)
- Veterans Assistance – Veterans or their surviving spouses may be eligible for benefits through the Veterans Affairs Aid and Attendance Pension (A&A Program). At Vineyard Henderson, we work for Veterans to accept pension programs. Contact us for further information.
- You can also locate your local regional benefit office using the VA Facility Locator.