Alzheimer’s Disease, the most common cause of dementia, is not a normal part of aging. This unforgiving disease destroys an individual’s mental functions and can create significant emotional stress for the individuals who have it and the people who care about them.
Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. It attacks the brain’s nerve cells, causing loss of memory, trouble concentrating and thinking, and problems with language skills. It can also lead to confusion, frustration and behavioral changes.
Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease, which means it worsens over time. In the early-onset stage of the disease, individuals usually experience minor memory loss. By the time they reach late-stage Alzheimer’s, they may no longer be able to engage in conversation or respond to their environment.
If you or a loved one think you may be suffering from the symptoms of early-onset Alzheimer’s, please speak to your doctor. If you would like help locating a doctor who has experience with evaluating memory problems, search the local Alzheimer’s Association chapter for one near you. This tool can also help you find support groups and educational resources in your area.
While there is no known cure for Alzheimer’s, there are drugs and therapies that can help temporarily slow the worsening of dementia symptoms and allow you to maintain your current quality of life longer. Your doctor can help you identify strategies specific to your needs, but these general tips may also help:
1. Get in the game.
Keeping your brain active through game play is encouraged. Consider trying crossword puzzles, jigsaw puzzles, brain teasers, word games, card games that challenge your memory, or family games that spark creativity.
2. Let the words flow.
Ongoing communication can be very helpful for someone with Alzheimer’s. Even if it’s simply talking about current affairs, discussing books you’ve read, or sharing the latest activities your children or grandchildren are involved in, you are activating key areas of the brain.
3. Document a life.
Actively recording memories in a scrapbook or photo album can help keep memories alive for you and your loved ones. A daily journal or diary for recording thoughts can be beneficial as well.
4. Plan ahead.
While you’re still able, it’s wise to get your financial and other affairs in order. Will you need to give someone access to your bank account? Do you have an Advance Healthcare Directive, also known as a Living Will? Have you had conversations with family members about what you want to happen as the disease progresses? Do you have a Last Will and Testament in place? Do you need to give someone Power of Attorney?
5. Stay positive.
Going out with family and friends and participating in activities you enjoy can boost your spirits and help you manage stress. Ask your doctor for recommendations that will improve your physical, mental and emotional well-being.
6. Create an action plan.
Alzheimer’s Navigator, a web tool from the Alzheimer’s Association (www.alz.org), helps you create a customized action plan based on answers you provide to short, online surveys. There are action plans for everything from working with your doctor and understanding care options, to financial planning and caregiver support.
If you have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, talk to your doctor about your options for treatments and therapies. Researchers are constantly looking for new ways to alter the course of the disease and help improve your quality of life.
Additionally, remember that you are not alone. You can seek support from those who are going through similar experiences by getting involved in the social network of the Alzheimer’s Association. And you can find excellent tips for accepting and preparing for the changes that will occur, coping with stress, and building a support team from the Alzheimer’s Association’s Tips for Daily Life.
Want to learn more about organizations doing great things to help patients struggling with Alzheimer's? We wrote a few blog posts on this over the past couple of years. Check out Music and Memory, an organization that refurbishes your old iPods, and packs them with tunes to help a patient rekindle some happy memories of life.