Friday, September 20, 2019

What do we do when we think it could be Alzheimer’s disease?

By GINA ROSSI | LCSW-BACS, MHSA, LDH Office of Aging and Adult Services

There can be nothing more heartbreaking and frightening than watching a parent or loved one slowly decline with memory problems or signs that indicate they may have dementia. Ask any older person about their biggest fears and inevitably the words “Alzheimer’s disease” enter into the conversation.

Approximately every 6 minutes someone receives an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. In Louisiana, 87,000 people over the age of 65 are living with Alzheimer’s, and 232,000 family caregivers are dealing with the effects of their loved ones needing care and support.

Alzheimer’s disease is a sixth leading cause of death in the U.S.  In 2017, there were 2,188 deaths in Louisiana related to Alzheimer’s, a 170% increase since 2000. This figure is projected to increase by 23.6% by 2025. Frightening, right? Despite this, only 16% of seniors receive regular cognitive assessments during routine health checkups. If you see signs, consult your primary care physician or neurologist.

The more we talk about Alzheimer’s, the more people are educated about its symptoms. The other side of the coin is that without clear guidance and professional consultation, our fears can cause us to jump to conclusions. For this reason, the Alzheimer’s Association provides education about this disease and what signs and symptoms we should be looking for.

It is important to know that dementia is an umbrella term and while Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia, there are many reasons why someone may be showing signs of dementia.

Know the 10 signs of Alzheimer’s
  1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life
  2. Challenges in planning or solving problems
  3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure
  4. Confusion with time or place
  5. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
  6. New problems with words in speaking or writing
  7. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
  8. Decreased or poor judgement
  9. Withdrawal from work or social activities
  10. Changes in mood and personality

The three stages of Alzheimer’s
  • Mild (early stage): The person is still able to function independently but may feel they are having memory lapses such as forgetting words or familiar locations. Friends or family who are close may notice a change. If you are a caregiver dealing with this stage, make plans now for an assessment so future plans (and support for you) can begin.
  • Moderate (middle stage): The disease has progressed and the person may no longer do routine tasks and become confused about their history. This is the longest period and the most difficult for caregivers as they have to deal with the person’s anger, frustration, and increased wandering. If you are a caregiver dealing with this stage, get support NOW.
  • Severe (late stage): In this stage, the person needs 24-hour care with daily activities and personal care. They are no longer responding to their environment and are unable to communicate, which is especially troublesome for those experiencing pain. In the final stages, death is a result of infections such as pneumonia or bed sores. If you are a caregiver dealing with someone in this stage, know that you have done the best that you can. Be kind to yourself.

Clinical trials, research and resources

It is true that there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, but through research we know there are ways for us to reduce the risk, including activities such as regular exercise, keeping one’s blood pressure within current healthy guidelines and engaging the brain. These small things help us maintain and protect our brain health.

While there is no cure, clinical trials continue locally and nationally. There are many important advances and efforts to help people better cope with the effects of the disease and to work toward a cure. Research also continues into how to help a person live with Alzheimer’s while focusing on the needs of the primary caregivers who experience the physical, emotional and mental burden of caring for someone who has Alzheimer’s.

Someone who is unable to care for themselves and who needs care in the home may be eligible for home and community-based services. For more information about these services, call Louisiana Long Term Care Options at 1-877-456-1146. Here are some additional places to go for help:

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