Coping with Alzheimer’s
An estimated 4.5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease. More than 25 million Americans have a family member with Alzheimer’s disease. More than 90 million Americans know someone with Alzheimer’s disease. And with the baby boom generation now entering the age of greatest risk for the disease, all of those numbers are expected to skyrocket over the next decades.
The Alzheimer’s Association of Kentucky and Southern Indiana provided the following advice on the prevention and diagnosis of Alzheimer’s and on care options for persons with the disease. For more information, see the Diagnosis and Treatment section of the national Alzheimer’s Association web site, or call the toll-free Helpline at (800) 272-3900.
Changes in the brain associated with Alzheimer’s disease may begin years before there are any detectable signs or symptoms. A growing body of research indicates that several lifestyle habits that contribute to healthier aging in general may also decrease your risk for Alzheimer’s. Following are some general tips:
- Manage your numbers—blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, and body weight—to stay healthy as you age.
- Feed your brain. Take a multivitamin that includes folic acid and vitamins E and C and eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
- Exercise your body and brain. Work out, take a class, converse, read, play cards, or work on crossword puzzles.
Memory loss and changes in mood and behavior are some signs that a person may have Alzheimer’s disease. If you have noticed these signs, consult a physician to receive a diagnosis as soon as possible. The benefits of an early diagnosis include
- time to make choices that maximize quality of life
- lessened anxieties about unknown problems
- a better chance of benefiting from treatment
- more time to plan for the future
It is also important for a physician to determine the specific cause of memory loss or other symptoms. Some dementia or dementia-like symptoms can be reversed if they are caused by treatable conditions, such as depression, drug interaction, thyroid problems, and certain vitamin deficiencies.
Some questions to ask your doctor after receiving a diagnosis:
- What does the diagnosis mean?
- Are additional tests needed to confirm the diagnosis?
- What changes in behavior or mental capacity can be expected over time?
- What care will be needed, and what treatment is available?
- What else can be done to alleviate symptoms?
- Are clinical trials being conducted in my area?
After the Diagnosis: Planning for the Future
Financial and Legal Issues
For both legal and financial planning, always consult a professional if possible.
- If an individual with Alzheimer’s has sufficient capacity, he or she should actively participate in the planning process.
- Legal planning should begin soon after a diagnosis is made. This includes putting in place documents that authorize another person to make health care and financial decisions and checking to see what wills and other legal documents may already be in place.
- Financial planning includes consideration of potential expenses, analysis of current resources, and identification of sources of assistance. Typical expenses can include medical treatment, prescription drugs, adult day services, in-home care, or full-time residential care. Resources can include retirement benefits, disability benefits, savings and investments, health care insurance coverage, long-term care insurance, Medicare, and Medicaid.
Persons with memory impairment may be able to live independently and safely for some time on their own or with the help of a family member or hired caregiver. As Alzheimer’s advances, day-to-day care may require the skills of a full-time health care staff. To make sure that a person’s needs and preferences for care are understood, talk about the options available with a family member or trusted friend. The sooner you do so, the more likely you are to find appropriate services.
Care services tend to fall into three categories: respite care, residential care, and hospice care. The cost for each type of care differs by service and community. Financial assistance may be available through state or federal programs (e.g., Medicaid or the Veterans Administration).
- RESPITE CARE provides the caregiver temporary relief from tasks associated with caregiving. The individual with dementia benefits from opportunities to socialize with others and live in the community longer. Respite care is mainly offered through community organizations or residential facilities; the most common programs are in-home care and adult day services.
- In-home services offer a range of options, including companion services, personal care, household assistance, and skilled care services to meet specific needs. In-home helpers can be employed privately, through an agency, or as part of a government program.
- Adult day services provide opportunities to interact with others, usually in a community center or facility. Staff members lead various activities such as music programs and support groups. Transportation and meals are often provided.
- Various types of RESIDENTIAL CARE FACILITIES may meet a person’s needs, depending on the level of care needed:
- Retirement housing generally provides each resident with an apartment or room that includes cooking facilities. This type of housing usually does not have round-the-clock staff on-site, and staff members may have little or no knowledge about dementia. This setting may be appropriate for persons in the early stage of Alzheimer’s who can still care for themselves independently and live alone safely.
- Assisted living facilities (or board and care homes) bridge the gap between living independently and living in a nursing home. Facilities typically offer a combination of housing and meals; supportive, personalized assistance; and health care services.
- Skilled nursing facilities (also known as nursing homes) may be the best choice when a person needs round-the-clock care or ongoing medical treatment. Most nursing homes have services and staff to address issues such as nutrition, care planning, recreation, spirituality, and medical care. Many facilities have special care units designed to meet the unique needs of people with dementia.
- Continuum care retirement communities (CCRCs) provide all of the different types of options described above. In these facilities, a person may receive all of the different levels of care on one campus but may need to be moved between buildings to receive different services.
- HOSPICE PROGRAMS provide care to persons in the late stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Hospice emphasizes a philosophy of comfort and care at the end of life without using drastic life-saving measures. This service is available through local hospice organizations and some home care agencies, hospitals, and nursing homes.