One in 10 people age 65 and older (10%) has Alzheimer's, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Alzheimer’s is far from the only type of dementia, but it is the most common, and the number of people affected by it is on the rise due to a growing senior population. Women and minorities are the most likely to develop the disease, and one in three seniors, the association states, dies with Alzheimer’s or another dementia.
It’s possible for a loved one to have dementia and not have Alzheimer’s because Alzheimer’s disease is just one form of dementia. Dementia itself is actually a symptom, not a disease. Other types of dementia include Lewy body dementia, vascular dementia, frontotemporal dementia, short-term memory loss and Huntington’s or Parkinson’s disease. For all forms of dementia, there is a decline in mental function. Another common symptom of all forms of dementia is wandering, which can pose great safety risks. Other symptoms are specific to certain types of dementia, such as the tremors and other motion function issues that people with Parkinson’s often develop as a result of the disease.
The three common stages of dementia and Alzheimer’s are:
Processing that a loved one has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia is no small task — and you’re likely to be overtaken by any number of emotions and racked with questions about the future. But once you’ve made room for those feelings and the new reality that you’re all about to face, it’s time to step into planning mode. First — and in the case of dementia, time really is of the essence, so don’t wait too long — make sure to have conversations about end-of-life care. Here are a few things to keep in mind when having these conversations:
Common options for Alzheimer’s care include adult day care, home care or assisted living communities. All can — and should — be catered to people with memory impairment, for example finding a home care aide who specializes in dementia patients, or opting for a room in a memory care unit at an assisted living community. Depending on what stage of dementia your loved one is in — early, middle or late — will dictate the type of providers you’ll want to enlist on your care team. If your loved one is living in facility care, such as assisted living, some of these providers may already be on staff. But no matter where they live, don’t try to provide all care on your own. Some caregivers you may want to consider for your team include a primary care physician, neurologist and nutritionist.
Being a family caregiver for any senior can be challenging, but being a family caregiver for someone with dementia can be particularly challenging. There’s, of course, the emotional toll of a loved one not being able to remember who you are, and the added frustrations if they won’t accept your help because they don’t trust a “stranger.” Maintaining calm so as not to stoke added anxiety in the person with Alzheimer’s becomes especially important for the caregiver, as does relying on physical communication, such as hand holding, to assure them and connect with them.
Hygiene, nutrition, financial management and safety planning are important areas for any caregiver to cover, but again will be of heightened importance when caring for someone with a form of dementia. With finances, for example, you will want to draw up a power of attorney so that you can act on their behalf in making financial decisions once their memory is truly impaired. Another thing to act on right away is dementia-proofing your home to ensure the safety of the senior. Examples of modifications you may want to make include:
Much like in-flight safety requires that you put your oxygen mask on first before assisting others, caregiving necessitates that you take care of your own physical and mental health when providing care for others. If you fall ill, it won’t be possible for you to look after someone else. This is all easier said than done, of course, because caregivers naturally put the needs of others before themselves and may need reminding — or even convincing — to tend to their own needs. So how can you take care of yourself while also helping your loved one? Here are a few tips to try.