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Understanding Alzheimer’s Disease and Its Effects

Senior woman embracing parent with dementia

If a loved one has recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, you’re likely looking for answers. What can you expect as the disease progresses? How can you best help your loved one? While there’s no known cure for Alzheimer’s, having answers to common questions can help you respond effectively to the diagnosis and provide your loved one with the best support possible.

What Are Common Alzheimer’s Symptoms?

Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, with an estimated 5.8 million Americans ages 65 and older living with the condition. It disrupts the communication center of the brain, affecting memory, language and thought. The condition is progressive and eventually a person with Alzheimer’s may need complete care. Symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease – and of many other types of dementia – include:

  • Forgetfulness that grows more severe over time. One of the most common early signs of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia is forgetting newly learned information. People suffering from dementia may repeat things or forget conversations or appointments. They commonly misplace items, often putting them in strange places, such as car keys in the refrigerator. 
  • Communication difficulties. Because Alzheimer’s affects the communication center of the brain, it may impact someone’s ability to express their thoughts, follow conversations, read and write.  
  • Confusion. Changes in the brain may cause people with dementia to lose their sense of time or become disoriented in once-familiar surroundings. They may wander from home or become lost in neighborhoods they used to know well.
  • Personality changes. Over time, someone suffering from Alzheimer’s may become suspicious, agitated, or angry. Depression and anxiety can co-exist with Alzheimer’s and your loved one may withdraw socially.

Making a Supportive Response

One of the most important steps you can take after a loved one’s dementia diagnosis is to schedule regular visits with their doctor. The doctor’s expertise and advice can help you navigate your next steps and ensure that you find the resources your loved one – and you – need.

As Alzheimer’s progresses, your loved one’s need for support and monitoring will increase. There are many effective, compassionate ways to approach caregiving. Here are a few that may be helpful:

  • Honor independence. It can be tempting to take over daily tasks if your loved one is struggling. But letting them handle some routine tasks, and giving them opportunities to make choices about their day, can support their sense of competence and dignity.
  • Speak out against social stigma. An Alzheimer’s diagnosis can carry a stigma and it can stir fear and discomfort in even your closest friends and family. Educate yourself about Alzheimer’s stigma, and speak honestly with friends and family about your loved one’s condition and the support you both need.
  • Take safety measures. As judgment diminishes and confusion grows, your loved one’s safety can become a concern. Evaluate your environment and take steps to prevent wandering or dangerous use of common household appliances. Here’s a comprehensive list of home safety measures for people living with dementia to help you take necessary precautions.
  • Encourage communication.  It’s important to continue communicating and helping your loved one express their feelings even as language challenges increase. Set the stage for effective communication by limiting distractions, turning off background noise, speaking directly, using visual cues and focusing on one topic at a time. Here are some additional communication strategies and support techniques that can help.

Find Helpful Alzheimer’s Resources at Monticello West

At Monticello West, we’re committed to offering the highest-quality care for people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. In The Garden, our memory care neighborhood at Monticello West, we make personal connections with each resident so we can create a care program that encourages meaningful engagement and fosters a feeling of success and purpose. Our approach is centered in Heartfelt CONNECTIONS – A Memory Care Program®, which focuses on the physical and emotional well-being of each resident.

If you have questions about how to best support your loved one with Alzheimer’s, our Guide for Caregivers can be a helpful resource. We also know that when you’re the primary caregiver for someone with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, your commitment can take an emotional and physical toll. Self-care is a must. To that end, we offer respite care. Your loved one can have a temporary stay in our memory care neighborhood. Planned activities that are comfortingly familiar and around-the-clock support will ensure your loved one’s safety and well-being, while you get some much-needed time for yourself. Contact us to find out more about memory care and respite care at Monticello West.