Be aware of these things if someone close to you is suffering from Alzheimer’s
Memory loss can be scary, but patience, trust and encouragement can help someone with this disease continue to live a meaningful life. One of the first things that comes to mind when you think about Alzheimer’s is memory loss. But there is so much more to this condition that healthcare providers, loved ones and people who have just been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s should know. There are a number of important facts and misconceptions about the disease.
Each stage of Alzheimer’s disease is unique
You might assume that someone with Alzheimer’s can’t engage in a conversation, but that’s not the case. “Those in the early stages have memory problems that make it easy to get lost or forget conversations, while personality changes or agitation might show up during the middle stages,” explains Mary Mittelman, director of Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias. When the late stage hits, the patient may have difficulty dressing or eating. “Symptoms of Alzheimer’s change over time,” says Dr. Mittelman.
Life is still fairly normal in the early stages
“I lead a largely normal life, but there are specific areas where I rely on a planner or alarm clock or smartphone,” said Eric Thompson, advisor to the Early-Stage Advisory Group for the Alzheimer’s Association. After being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s about four years ago, he had to retire, and he made a few changes to his routine. For example, he finishes his checklist of daily chores early in the morning, so that he does not forget them. However, Eric says people are shocked by how well he remembers conversations.
Things are not forgotten on purpose
You may be annoyed that you have to repeat yourself to someone with Alzheimer’s, but don’t let your impatience get the better of you. Instead, simplify the way you say things so that your words are more likely to stick.
Reminding someone that their loved ones have died is terrible
When someone with Alzheimer’s asks about a deceased loved one, don’t cause unnecessary heartbreak by saying that the person has passed away. Instead, offer to take the person on a walk to find that person, says Jackie Pinkowitz, president of the Dementia Action Alliance. “You can’t expect that person to kind of come back into where you’re at, but you can be nice and kind of be where they are”, said Pinkowitz, who cared for her mother and father-in-law, both of whom had dementia. “Share the moment, but be willing to kind of go into their world a little.”
Socializing is important
Those suffering from Alzheimer’s should not be urged to stay at home, especially in the early stages when they have only mild cognitive impairment. In fact, it is good to spend time with friends and family. “Unfortunately, some family members just disable them more rather than enabling them and encouraging them to be involved,” Pinkowitz says.
They can do more than you think
You may be surprised to learn that in the early stages, sufferers can still drive. In fact, getting lost isn’t the first sign of Alzheimer’s. Thompson says he can get around using a GPS and an app that reminds him where he parked.
Involve them in daily activities
As everyday tasks become more difficult, it is common for people with Alzheimer’s disease (or their families) to assume that they cannot participate in the activities they used to do. But depending on the patient’s stage, he or she can still do those things, but with some adjustments. It is important to try to include people with dementia as much as possible. This helps to maintain an emotional connection.
Live a meaningful life
Alzheimer’s disease can shake up everyday life in such a way that it becomes difficult to get back on track. But that doesn’t mean you should abandon a loved one and let them spend all their time at home alone. Thompson said that early retirement was a struggle. He often didn’t know what to do with his days. But becoming involved with the Alzheimer’s Association has given him the opportunity to go to museums, attend supportive meetings, give speeches, and attend conferences. “It gave me a new purpose, a new way to be involved and active and engaged,” he says. “I never thought my life would be enriched the way it has.”
Alzheimer’s can strike young
Thompson was 54 years old when he was diagnosed. He says many people are surprised at the early diagnosis, so he shares educational resources with them. “It changes the nature of the relationship and discourse. They didn’t know people in their early 50s got Alzheimer’s,” he says. “Early detection of diagnosis matters. If you think you’re having memory problems, seek medical care. It might be normal aging, and it might not be.”
Loud restaurants can be stressful
The agitation in a busy restaurant can make it even more difficult to follow a conversation, especially for someone with uncorrected hearing loss. “Very loud places, such as a noisy restaurant, can be difficult. The overstimulation of noise makes it less possible to understand the conversation around them,” says Dr. Mittelman. Instead, try eating in a quiet cafe so that someone with Alzheimer’s feels more involved.