June Special: Living With Alzheimer’s Disease

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June is the “Alzheimer’s and brain health awareness month”, an opportunity to “go purple” and shed light on dementia and the huge impact it has on those affected.

The Numbers

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Alzheimer’s disease has become a very serious public health issue. An estimated 47 million people are currently living with Alzheimer’s disease worldwide, and around 5.8 million Americans are affected.

In 2018, Alzheimer’s was the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.

The Facts

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First, let’s start by explaining Alzheimer’s disease. Simply, it is a progressive disease that impairs memory and cognition or thinking ability.

It usually affects people over 60 years of age, but in very rare cases, it may affect people as young as 30.

At first, the impairment is mild and might be brushed off as a part of normal aging. Later on, however, it hinders daily activities and the person becomes more and more dependent on caregivers or family members.

More information on how to tell the difference between normal aging and Alzheimer’s disease can be found here.

The causes of this disease are not yet fully understood, but it could be attributed to multiple factors including genetic, lifestyle, and environmental factors.

The Coping Process

Joyful adult daughter greeting happy surprised senior mother in garden

If you are a caregiver for someone who’s suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, you might sometimes feel overwhelmed. Don’t beat yourself up though, this is completely normal.

As the disease progresses, it tends to alter the patient’s personality which presents you with some difficult challenges.

Understanding the changes might make it a lot easier for you to cope.

Here are some of the most common ones:

  1. Getting upset more easily
  2. Worrying too much about daily life
  3. Lack of interest or apathy towards things they used to enjoy
  4. Becoming suspicious, or even delusional
  5. Confusion
  6. Repeating information or questions

As the disease advances, these changes will become increasingly prevalent.

Here are our top tips to deal with them:

1. Be Patient

No matter how overwhelmed you might feel, you should avoid showing your frustration as it might negatively affect your loved one’s mood and emotions.

Instead, try to take deep breaths or withdraw for a couple of minutes until you regain your composure.

Also, try to always stay calm and patient with your loved ones to avoid conflict.

2. Keep It Simple

People suffering from Alzheimer’s disease can no longer process information as efficiently as they used to.

Try to use simple sentences in a clear voice, away from any distractions or loud noises.

You could also repeat information as many times as you feel necessary to make sure that your message has gotten through.

3. Be Realistic

If the patient is a loved one of yours, you might find yourself setting unattainable goals.

For example, you want their house to be super tidy, their clothes to be clean, and their appearance to be neat. Unfortunately, this will not always be the case given the nature of this condition.

Instead of wasting precious quality time arguing over these small things, accept that things will not always be perfect.

4. Understand What Lies Beneath The Actions

If you used to love playing chess with your grandpa, you might feel a bit hurt that he’s no longer interested in chess.

But it’s not because your grandpa doesn’t love spending time with you anymore, it’s because chess has become too challenging for him after he lost some of his critical thinking skills due to Alzheimer’s.

So instead of pushing him to do something he can no longer do, try to find something else you can both enjoy together.

5. Be Prepared

In the early stages of the disease, the patient might still be able to remain independent. However, their autonomy is tremendously compromised in the later stages.

Although it is hard to discuss, you need to make plans with your loved ones for when they will become completely dependent and need 24/7 care.

You might also want to get legal advice regarding an Advance Health and Care directive or a living will to agree on who will have the power to make financial and health decisions.

Because this is a progressive disease, the earlier you discuss these issues the more involved the patient will be. Remember, in Alzheimer’s disease, memory loss and cognitive function decline are irreversible.

Prevention

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There are many ways to improve your brain health and reduce your risk of cognitive impairment.

1. Get Moving

The benefits of regular exercise are too many to list here, but let me tell you, it’s one of the biggest favors you could ever do yourself.

Some studies have shown that exercise has helped improve cognitive function in people who had memory problems.

It’s also been shown that physical activity can reduce cognitive decline.

2. Get a Good Night’s Sleep

Your brain needs sleep for many essential functions including learning and memories consolidation.

This is why it’s not surprising that studies have shown that those who get less than 7 or 8 hours of sleep per day score lower on mental function tests.

3. Buddy Up

Having regular social interactions may help maintain your cognitive functions and memory as you age.

Some research suggests that those who maintain regular ties with people are less likely to have cognitive function decline compared to those who don’t.

4. Mental Exercise

Staying mentally active is just as important as staying physically active.

It’s been suggested that education, reading, or other forms of mental stimulation help keep your brain healthy and may lower your risk of dementia.

So next time you have some extra time on your hand, invest in a new book or maybe enroll in a course at a nearby university.

How To Help

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If you’re interested in leaving a positive impact and helping those affected, make sure you check out the Alzheimer’s Association website.

You can donate money that goes to research and providing Alzheimer’s care and support, participate in fundraising events, and much more.

Follow this link for more information.

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