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Alzheimer’s Disease

Are you concerned that your parent may have Alzheimer’s disease?

 

Fig. 1: How to approach Alzheimer’s according to Maria

If so, you’re not alone.

The risk of getting Alzheimer’s increases with age making this a top concern among those with aging parents.

When you explore a topic like Alzheimer’s it can help to have a framework, or way of approaching the new information, so that you don’t become overwhelmed or unnecessarily upset.

To help you I’ve come up with A.G.E. which stands for:

#1 Assume Nothing

Alzheimer’s disease is becoming better known and this is a good thing.  Research is desperately needed to more fully understand, and ultimately cure, this devastating illness.  However, the downside to increased awareness is that it’s easy to become concerned that your aging parent has got it when in fact he/she does not.

Memory loss does not necessarily mean Alzheimer’s

Short-term memory loss is one of the hallmark signs of the early stage of Alzheimer’s.  However – and this is key – short-term memory loss can be the result of a number of things including normalage-related forgetfulness, a vitamin deficiency, and even depression.

So if your aging parent has symptoms that worry you because you think they might signal Alzheimer’s, you shouldn’t assume that this is so.  By the same token, don’t assume that what you’re noticing isn’t worthy of attention.  My best advice is to consult with your parent’s primary care provider as soon as possible for further assessment.

#2 Get the Facts

The term given to the collection of symptoms that include memory loss and other impairments in cognition is dementia.  Alzheimer’s disease is the cause of dementia in a majority of cases, but there are other causes too.

Think this topic couldn’t get anymore confusing? Think again!  Often the terms “Alzheimer’s” and “dementia” are used interchangeably. And although it isn’t easy, understanding the difference between the two is important.

Why? Because not all dementia presents with the same symptoms or progresses in the same way. If your parent has been diagnosed with dementia, it’s possible that the cause is not Alzheimer’s disease, but a stroke or some other underlying cause. A thorough assessment will help to sort out the root of the symptoms which will be an important piece of treatment planning.

Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia have been ruled out by a physician  – now what?

That’s great news!  The name of the game you’re playing now has three words: prevention, Prevention, PREVENTION!

So how do you prevent Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia? There has been a lot written on that very topic. To make things easier I’ve summarized this information for you here.

What if the doctor says it is Alzheimer’s?

Now we’ve hit the nitty-gritty.  If your aging parent’s physician says that he or she has Alzheimer’s, the first step would be to ask about medication.  While there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, some medications do pause the progression of the illness for a time.  These medications are not effective in everyone and sometimes side-effects are considerable.  However, I think that medications are often worth a try.

What you need to know

If your parent is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, some information is critical to know, but difficult to hear. That said, I would advise you to pace yourself in your quest to learn more. Read what you can tolerate, then stop and return to it another time.  Most times Alzheimer’s progresses slowly over a period of several years.  So if today’s not the day to digest all the information you find, then it’s not the day.  Be good to yourself…

When you do feel ready to learn about the ugliness of Alzheimer’s, I have a few suggestions about where to start.  First, read what you can about the stages of Alzheimer’s to gain a sense of the kinds of behaviors that are most common in each.  Also, find a physician that you trust, and that your parent trusts, and stick with him/her.  This relationship can be invaluable.  Even still, there may be some messages that aren’t clearly expressed.  Again, my best advice here is to go at your own pace.

#3 Explore Options For The Future

If your loved one has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, you will need to give serious consideration to what he or she needs both now and in the future. Daily assistance will activities of daily living will be necessary.  At some point, it may no longer be possible to care for your parent at home.  Paying for continuous care such as this requires planning and in some instances, strategy.

Regardless of the financial picture you will need emotional support and respite.  Having worked with many family members who were helping to care for an aging parent with Alzheimer’s I’ve written on the topic quite a bit.

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