Some of the insights Dr. Huang outlined in his article include:
Understand the difference between dementia and Alzheimer's
Distinguishing Alzheimer's disease from the varied effects of aging and related conditions remains challenging for patients and their families.
Dementia is not a specific disease. Dementia is a term used to describe any slow, progressive decline in mental function, like memory or language, which is significant enough to disrupt an individual's daily activities. Although Alzheimer's disease is the most common type of dementia, there are many other causes of dementia that a physician will consider.
Be mindful of warning signs
In older adults, it's not always easy to figure out which changes in memory and personality are parts of the natural aging process and which are signs of a more serious issue. While family members most commonly point to signs of forgetfulness in aging loved ones, doctors considering an Alzheimer's diagnosis will also look for other warning signs, including:
- A decline in carrying out daily functions like balancing a checkbook
- A lack of interest in hobbies
- Reluctance to leave the house
- Difficulty keeping up with conversations.
Caregivers are often the first to notice warning signs and may be the ones to push for the first doctor visit. However, these issues typically develop very slowly and are very subtle at first. It's common for individuals to not remember exactly when they started experiencing symptoms. It can be years before a person seeks medical treatment, which makes establishing a timeline and predicting the progression difficult for doctors.
Once treatment has begun, caregivers can be more accurate and objective in describing symptoms to doctors.
Help loved ones maintain their normal daily functions
Caregivers play a crucial role in helping patients maintain their day-to-day lives. Maintaining household chores, social interactions, and physical activities are especially important. In the relatively early stages of Alzheimer's disease, caregivers should encourage their loved ones to continue regular activities, while also monitoring to ensure these activities don't become dangerous to the affected person or to others.
Make sure you're cared for
There may come a time when an Alzheimer's patient begins to challenge the caregiver and stops following instructions. As the person's behavior changes, caregivers must constantly shift their strategies and expectations. This is no easy feat. When a person with Alzheimer's disease is especially upset or confused, often the best approach is to relent enough to let the person calm down, then redirect the behavior later. It's important to remember that the person's condition is clouding their true intentions.
The physical and emotional impact of caring for a loved one who is struggling with Alzheimer's disease can be overwhelming. Many doctors' offices have social workers available to talk to caregivers and direct them to additional resources and support. Resources are also available online, like the services offered by the Alzheimer's Association, Alzheimer's Disease International and Alzheimer's Foundation of America.
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