As a Geriatrician, I get a lot of questions about Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. It’s a common concern for seniors and our loved ones – simply because aging puts us more at risk.
Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia. It’s a neurodegenerative disease caused by abnormal deposition of protein in the brain. There is no cure for the disease and it is relentlessly progressive, compromising one’s memory, thinking and behavior. This disease can be hereditary – and if a parent or sibling has had Alzheimer’s, you’re at increased risk.
Dementia and Alzheimer’s are not a normal part of aging. And random forgetfulness is not a form of dementia. Sometimes patients – or their family members – think they have dementia because they consistently forget things. But that may not be the case. If you’re truly concerned, it’s best to see your doctor rather than self-diagnose.
The good news is, there are behaviors that can reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s. I often suggest getting regular exercise, having a healthy diet and developing good sleeping habits. It’s also helpful to find ways of managing any stress you have. Interact with people in social situations to avoid isolation. And engage in daily activities that promote mental health, such as reading and doing puzzle or word games, even online brain games.
Although there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, you can get help managing the symptoms through the right medication. Keeping your brain strong can also help slow down the process of worsening Alzheimer’s. ( Read our recent blog, Think Your Way Through Cognitive Changes for information on recognizing and dealing with cognitive decline.)
Now, let’s look at it through the caregiver’s perspective. For every person that has Alzheimer’s, there’s someone else who has to learn how to live with it, too.
So, what do you do when your loved one develops Alzheimer’s? Caring for someone with any stage of dementia is not easy. But there are plenty of resources available, including talking with your physician.
Here are a few things I recommend that may help you both along the way:
- Educate yourself on the disease so you can do your best to understand and empathize with those afflicted.
- Develop routines and schedules. Normalcy is key to avoid confusion for your loved one.
- Set realistic expectations for yourself so you aren’t let down when the unexpected happens.
- Don’t constantly correct them. Or, if they repeat the same thing, don’t say things like, “You already told me that.” It’s better just to agree with them, otherwise they will likely get mad or frustrated. And so will you.
- Learn how to love them with their new personality and behaviors rather than trying to change them back to who they used to be.
- Be patient with them. It’s all too easy to get frustrated, so it’s important to let things go whenever you can.
- Become intimately familiar with the Alzheimer’s Association website: www.alz.org. This is an excellent website that can answer nearly all of your questions.
We understand how difficult Alzheimer’s and the different degrees of dementia can be for those who have it and those caring for them. We’re here to help. And you can always contact us with any questions you may have.