November is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month—a month dedicated to educating the public about Alzheimer’s and how people can help those suffering from Alzheimer’s, as well as their caretakers.
What is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s disease comes in different stages and is often found in the older community; but it isn’t primarily an elderly disease. The disease has three different stages and may progress gradually over time. It can be undetectable in its early stages, but it begins with Mid-Alzheimer’s disease. This early stage has a few different symptoms:
- Issues finding the right word or name of something or of someone
- Trouble remembering names of new people
- Challenges performing tasks in social and work settings
- Forgetting reading material
- Losing or misplacing a valuable object
- Increasing trouble with planning and organizing
Moderate Alzheimer’s, or the middle stage, is characterized by:
- Forgetfulness of events and personal history
- Feeling moody or withdrawn
- Unable to recall their own address or phone number and/or the college or high school they attended
- Confusion about where they are or what day it is
- The need for help choosing proper clothing for the season or occasion
- Trouble controlling their bowels or bladder in some cases
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Increased risk of wandering or being lost
- Personality and behavioral changes
Severe Alzheimer’s can bring about:
- Loses awareness of recent experiences and surroundings
- Experiences changes in physical abilities such as walking, sitting, or swallowing
- Increasing difficulty in communicating
- Vulnerability to infections, especially pneumonia
Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia, accounting for 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases. However, 600,000 Americans under the age of 65 have younger-onset Alzheimer’s. It also worsens over time, meaning that, as a progressive disease, it has on average a life expectancy of four to eight years after diagnosis, with the possibility of living up to 20 years after diagnosis. There are treatments for Alzheimer’s, but no current cures.
How to care for someone with Alzheimer’s
Being a caretaker for someone suffering from Alzheimer’s disease can be difficult. It can be an around the clock position that does not always feel rewarding. It is important to be consistent and take the time for self-care as well as caring for the person suffering from Alzheimer’s. Therefore, it is important for caretakers and those supporting them to know how to properly care for the person suffering from the disease.
Make sure to schedule wisely. Establishing a daily routine can help provide some consistency in a life that is full of inconsistency. It’ll be helpful to keep every day needs like bathing or medical appointments the same time every day to keep it easier on your loved one. Taking your time is especially important, and you should anticipate that tasks may take longer than usual. Involving the person you are taking care of is also important because it allows the person to do as much as possible with the least amount of assistance.
Communication is key. Providing choices, even if they are simple ones, will help give some independence to the person being cared for. Including clear, one-step communication will help provide independence and boost confidence. One way to help reduce distractions is to turn off the television during mealtimes and during a conversation to help keep the person focused on the task at hand.
Create a safe environment for your loved one. To help prevent falls, avoid using rugs or extension cords, and install handrails or grab bars. Install locks on cabinets that contain anything potentially dangerous such as medicine and tools. For fire safety, keep matches and lighters out of reach, as well, and be sure to have a fire extinguisher accessible for emergencies.
Get involved to raise awareness
Getting involved to raise awareness for Alzheimer’s disease isn’t just something to do during the month of November. There are organizations and events that happen throughout the year that you can participate in to raise funds and awareness.
You can help raise money for research by registering as a walker or team captain in the Alzheimer’s Association Walk to End Alzheimer’s. You can also volunteer at your local Alzheimer’s Association chapter. Become a leader by joining the Early-Stage Advisory Group, which provides the most appropriate services for people living with early-stage Alzheimer’s while also sharing stories to raise awareness about early-stage issues. It advocates with legislators to increase funding for research and support programs.
Ways to raise awareness can vary, but it’s important to be informed, so do your research and ask important questions. If you want to be more involved, you can host an Alzheimer’s benefit. You can raise awareness in your workplace by hosting events. You can also become a Dementia Friend as well as participate in research studies. A Dementia Friend is a way an individual can help someone with dementia. It can be through helping a neighbor, adopting dementia friendly practices in their home or profession, or volunteering.
There are a number of ways to help protect your memory and fight against the disease. It’s shown that by doing cardiovascular activities you can reduce the risk of cognitive decline. Make sure to challenge yourself by being mentally engaged: learn a foreign language, practice a musical instrument, read books and newspapers, etc. Be social by participating in clubs and community groups or volunteering, which can help reduces risk of depression.