Being a carer is a rewarding but difficult calling — this is truer when those you care about suffer from Alzheimer’s Disease. Here are 12 facts to keep in mind while you help them through these difficult times.
If you’ve chosen a career in caring, you know there will be difficult times ahead. You’ll often get attached to your clients, and be there every day to witness their struggles with various ailments and hardships. It’s a hard job, but a rewarding one.
If your clients have Alzheimer’s disease, it’s likely you’ll struggle even more. You’ll do your best to comfort them and help them retain their independence, while also assisting them in any way you can. It’s a delicate balance, but if you get it right, you can make a real difference in someone’s life. Below are twelve facts about Alzheimer’s you should be aware of as you offer elder care to this vulnerable but resilient demographic.
Alzheimer’s Is a Form of Dementia
Confusion reigns about the difference between Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Carers should be aware that dementia is an overarching term used to describe symptoms that impact memory, affect everyday activities and impede communication. Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia — and the most common type. While young people might get Alzheimer’s, the elderly are more at risk. It’s a progressive and degenerative disease, but the medical community does not consider it a normal part of ageing. Carers should be aware of Dementia and Alzheimer’s, as it will make a difference concerning treatment and management.
2. What Causes Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is a neurological disorder. Proteins containing beta-amyloid build up in the brain causing plaques, then brain cells begin to die, which causes memory loss and cognitive decline.
Unfortunately, the real cause of these protein build-ups is still unknown, though some risk factors have been identified, like genetics, head injuries and age.
As the brain controls everything, those patients in the advanced stages of the disease might stop eating, thereby becoming weak and vulnerable to infection. They might even have trouble swallowing or coughing, and they are at heightened risk of choking or developing pneumonia.
3. There Are 7 Stages of Alzheimer’s Disease
The medical community has currently identified seven stages of Alzheimer’s disease
- No Impairment — At this point, there is no memory impairment, and the disease is not evident or detectable.
- Very Mild Cognitive Decline — The patient begins to experience forgetfulness, including forgetting why they have come into a room or where they have left their keys. These symptoms may be so small they aren’t noticed by family members or even the family doctor.
- Mild Cognitive Decline — Patient experiences increased forgetfulness, along with slight difficulty with concentration and focus. This is usually the time when the disease is detected and can last up to seven years.
- Moderate Cognitive Decline — Up until this stage, the patient is not truly considered to have Alzheimer’s. At this point, a patient will experience increased forgetfulness, generally forgetting recent events. They will also have increased difficulty concentrating and difficulty with problem-solving. People in this stage might be in denial about their condition, but socialising may be more difficult, so family and friends might notice they are beginning to withdraw.
- Moderately Severe Decline — Major memory deficiencies begin to show. People at this stage may need help dressing, bathing and preparing food. Memory lapses become more severe and may include difficulty in remembering where they are or what time it is. This stage lasts one and a half years, on average.
- Severe Decline — At this point, a patient will require substantial assistance to carry out day-to-day activities. You’ll notice they may have little to no memory of recent events. They will begin to forget the names of friends and family, as well as details about their earlier lives. People may begin to experience incontinence and may suffer from delusions and anxiety. This stage can last two and a half years.
- Very Severe Decline — This final stage is often the hardest for family, as most people will have lost their ability to communicate. They will be highly dependent on their carers for toileting, bathing, dressing and eating. They will need around-the-clock care.
4. Be Aware of the 10 Early Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer’s
If you are caring for someone and are concerned they are experiencing signs and symptoms of the disease, it’s best to be forearmed so you have time to get a plan in place for the care. The Alzheimer’s Association has listed ten symptoms and signs of Alzheimer’s disease — carers should become familiar with this list so they can help when they are needed most.
5. Alzheimer’s Symptoms Can Present as Early as Age 30
Generally, we think of Alzheimer’s as a disease that only inflicts the elderly, but this is simply not the case. The early stages of the disease can be seen in people as young as 30. Little is known about why certain people develop the disease this young, although studies are being carried out to find the answers.
6. There Are 6 Pillars of Alzheimer’s Prevention
There is no known cure for Alzheimer’s disease. Since we don’t know exactly what causes it, we can’t be sure of how to prevent it. Having said that, there are certain risk factors you can detect and six pillars of Alzheimer’s prevention to keep in mind:
- Regular exercise — which is believed to reduce the risk of developing the disease by as much as 50%
- Social engagement
- Healthy, balanced nutrition
- Mental stimulation
- Quality sleep
- Stress management
7. There Is No Known Cure for Alzheimer’s
As mentioned previously, there is no known cure for Alzheimer’s disease, nor is there a known way to stop or slow its progression. However, there are certain drug and non-drug options that can help treat symptoms. Carers should become familiar with the options and consult with their client’s doctor to help manage their disease and improve quality of life.
8. How Many People Suffer from Alzheimer’s in the UK?
There are currently more than 520,000 people in the UK with Alzheimer’s disease. The average person will develop the disease after the age of 65, but there are 40,000 people under the age of 65 with dementia.
9. More Women Suffer from Alzheimer’s Than Men
Though it’s not entirely clear why, women suffer more from Alzheimer’s than men. According to the Alzheimer’s Society for over the age of 65, there are roughly twice as many women with the disease than men. This is linked to the fact that women lack oestrogen after menopause, while others state the reason for the statistic is because women often outlive men.
10. What Is the Average Life Expectancy of an Alzheimer’s Patient?
Life expectancy after diagnosis is generally eight to ten years, although it can be as short as three or as long as twenty. According to a 2004 study, women live longer after initial diagnosis than men.
11. Alzheimer Carers Need to Remember Self-Care
Life is difficult for an Alzheimer’s carer — don’t neglect your own self-care. According to one study, Alzheimer caregivers have a 6.3% higher rate of anxiety and depression when compared to non-caregivers, and 35% of the respondents said their health went downhill since caring for a person in early stages of the disease. Remember, if you don’t care for yourself properly, you can’t properly care for another.
12. Home Care Services Are Best for Alzheimer’s Sufferers
In the early days of Alzheimer’s disease, in-home care is a great option for patients. If a patient remains in his or her own home, they benefit from familiar surroundings and memories, while retaining independence for as long as possible. Familiar sights and smells are critical at this stage and can comfort the elderly when they feel their memories fading. For those caring for Alzheimer’s patients at home, there are a number of home safety tips for you to keep in mind at all times.
Companions of London provides families across London with introductions to professional and reliable care agencies. Our carers are experienced with Alzheimer’s disease and can offer live-in help while encouraging independence and autonomy.