Alzheimer’s Disease: What It Is, Treatment Options & Support For Caregivers
Overview of Condition
Alzheimer’s Disease is a type of dementia. What’s dementia? It’s a decline in memory or thinking severe enough to limit a person’s everyday functionality. More than 5 million Americans currently live with Alzheimer’s Disease and the number is predicted to increase to 13 million by 2050. But Alzheimer’s doesn’t just affect individuals, it’s changes and challenges impact families and loved ones significantly, as well. If you or someone you love has received an Alzheimer’s diagnose, you’re not alone. There is support and help available, especially for the adjustment disorder that can accompany such a life-changing event.
MyHealios is committed to providing valuable support to families, caregivers, and those affected by Alzheimer’s Disease. Using secure and private telehealth technology, MyHealios provides family behavioral therapy to inform, train and empower anyone caring for, loving and assisting an Alzheimer’s patient. Adjusting to the challenges this condition can bring is often hard work and, sometimes, loved ones will need help and assistance dealing with resultant adjustment disorder. MyHealios’ online mental health clinic, staffed by highly trained family behavioral therapists can help by providing information and tactics to make daily life easier, lower stress, and improve feelings of well-being. But more importantly, by addressing adjustment disorder before it can become more serious, MyHealios can help to strengthen a caregiver’s long-term wellness and resilience. All you need is a basic computer, tablet, or smartphone.
What is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common type of dementia, accounting for between 60 and 80 percent of diagnoses. Research shows that 1 in 10 Americans over the age of 65 has Alzheimer’s Disease. Of these, the majority are aged 85 and over, although younger people can also be affected. Those diagnosed under the age of 65 are said to have early-onset dementia.
Alzheimer’s Disease is caused by the death of brain cells and is characterized by the build-up of two proteins in the brain: tau and amyloid. Two structures, plaques and tangles develop in the nerve tissue. Plaques are typically found between dying brain cells and arise from the build-up of the protein amyloid. Tangles are located within neurons in the brain and arise due to the disintegration of tau.
The symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease include problems with many areas of brain functioning, mainly memory, language, planning, and problem-solving. Sometimes, if these symptoms are not obvious, they are attributed to stress or may be incorrectly diagnosed as depression.
Alzheimer’s Disease is a chronic and progressive disease, meaning that if someone has the disease, they will always have it and the symptoms will generally increase over time. The speed of the condition’s progression is different for each person and can be affected by lifestyle as well as any other illnesses or conditions they may have.
As the symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease progress, some people benefit from in-home health care, where people with specific qualifications come to help family members care for their relative. For others, placement in an Alzheimer’s assisted-living or a residential facility is more appropriate.
Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease
Key symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease include poor memory for recent events and conversations, decreasing ability to understand and retain new information and reduced reasoning skills. Many people with Alzheimer’s Disease may also experience symptoms of depression.
Alzheimer’s Disease generally presents in three stages; early or mild, mid or moderate, and late or severe. While the progression for each individual is unique, thinking about the disease in this way can help people caring for or supporting a loved with Alzheimer’s Disease to understand what changes they may see in their relative in the next few weeks, months, or years.
In the early stage of Alzheimer’s Disease, the changes to a person are usually very minor and sometimes are incorrectly attributed to stress or aging. Such minor changes include losing track of the date, misplacing keys, having difficulty judging distance, or losing interest in activities.
In the mid stage of Alzheimer’s Disease, an individual may start to struggle to cope and symptoms may become more apparent in day-to-day life. The increased numbers of plaques and tangles forming on proteins means that the damage to the brain is becoming more noticeable. At this stage, the affected individual may find it difficult to be understood by others, both verbally and emotionally.
The late stage of Alzheimer’s Disease is often the most emotionally challenging for family caregivers, other loved ones, and friends. During this time, it’s particularly important for caregivers to focus on their own health and well-being as well as that of their loved one. It’s not uncommon for individuals in the late stage of Alzheimer’s to begin to live in a residential care facility so that they can receive the level of care that they need.
The severe memory loss associated with the late stage of Alzheimer’s Disease can be distressing for affected person as well as for friends and family. There may, however, be moments of clarity and vivid memories. With this in mind, it’s important to remember that even though your loved one may not communicate verbally often (or at all), your communication with him or her is important. Even if your relative is unable to respond to you verbally, you may see signs of response in their eyes or body language. The sounds of familiar and beloved voices can help to relax a person with Alzheimer’s. If possible, it’s best to avoid talking about dementia or Alzheimer’s in the affected person’s presence and, because they can likely hear you, remember to include your loved one in conversations, even if they can’t respond.
Throughout all of these stages of Alzheimer’s Disease, ensuring a safe and loving environment for your relative is key to their well-being. Your relationship will change over time and your loved one’s personality may also change, but even if they are struggling to remember things that you do together or that you say, they will continue to remember how you make them feel.
Adapting to a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s can be challenging – for individuals as well as families and caregivers. You may have questions about the disease, what happens next, and the future. The MyHealios program can help by providing valuable, disease-specific education and training to make living with Alzheimer’s more manageable and improve satisfaction with family life.
Risk factors for Alzheimer’s Disease
- Age – Although Alzheimer’s Disease is not a normal part of aging, the risk of getting Alzheimer’s Disease increases as you get older. A greater proportion of people in their 80s and 90s have Alzheimer’s Disease compared to those in their 60s and 70s.
- Genetics – There is an inherited gene, ApoE4, that is thought to increase someone’s risk of Alzheimer’s Disease.
- Lifestyle factors – Exercise and a healthy diet are thought to help protect against the development of Alzheimer’s Disease, whereas smoking and excessive alcohol intake are believed to increase Alzheimer’s risks.
What does it feel like to have Alzheimer’s Disease?
People living with Alzheimer’s Disease sometimes don’t realize there is anything wrong with them and can become frustrated or angry when you offer to help them because they don’t think they need any help. In addition, it can be difficult for people with Alzheimer’s to communicate their pain, which can impact their well-being and mood.
Individuals with Alzheimer’s Disease have described living with the condition as feeling like you have a “head full of concrete or cotton wool.” Many people have days where their symptoms impact their lives more than others and the frequency of these days can be unpredictable.
Forgetting the names of friends and family can be embarrassing and distressing. Being confused about where things are or losing items can cause tension between family members. Sometimes a person with Alzheimer’s Disease may believe that their items are being stolen from them.
As a result of their symptoms, many people feel sad and anxious about the challenges they face. It’s easy to understand why experiencing confusion would make someone feel this way.
Given with that living with Alzheimer’s Disease is confusing, noisy environments, too much stimulation, and fast-paced activities are known to add to those feelings of confusion and should be avoided. Caregivers and family members should know that the way they interact and communicate with the affected individual can make life feel easier or more difficult for them.
The confusion that people with Alzheimer’s Disease experience can affect their sleep and nutrition. With Alzheimer’s, day and night can become difficult to understand and confusion regarding time can affect appetite and eating.
The family members of people living with Alzheimer’s Disease sometimes say that the condition has affected their loved one’s personality as well as their memory, communication and thinking. Obviously this can be distressing. But remember, there is support for Alzheimer’s caregivers and there are lots of activities and services for people with Alzheimer’s Disease available – these can help keep people active and engaged in interests and hobbies. Some people may only need a bit of support to continue with their usual activities. Others may discover a new hobby. And for family caregivers, there is the chance to meet others experiencing similar circumstances and support one another.
In addition to finding and cultivating support networks, family caregivers can also learn new skills and valuable information about Alzheimer’s Disease in order to improve management techniques and self-care. One way to do this is through family behavioral therapy, like that provided by MyHealios. Family behavioral therapy is recommended for anyone interacting with a patient (even for only a few hours a week) to help ease stress and improve well-being for the patient as well as the caregiver. Through this type of “psycho-education,” you can learn skills and techniques to improve communications, address specific disease-related challenges and behaviors, problem-solve, and generally improve day-to-day life. MyHealios family behavioral therapy is provided confidentially and conveniently online. Importantly, MyHealios experts are certified in addressing the needs and challenges surrounding serious chronic illness as well as caregiving and are experienced in addressing adjustment disorder, a group of symptoms (such as stress, depressed mood, impaired occupational or social functioning, anxiety, aches, pains, or palpitations) that can occur as a result of a stressful life event. If you’re experiencing any physical or emotional symptoms that could be related to your caregiving role or stressful other life events, MyHealios can help – which is important because, left untreated, adjustment disorder can progress to something more serious.
Alzheimer’s Disease often makes communication more difficult for people and this tends to get worse over time. For some people, word finding can be challenging. A single word in a sentence may be wrong, for example a person may say something like “Can you pass me the elephant?” A person may replace words descriptions, for example by saying “cutting thing” instead of “knife”. Sentence structures may become muddled or grammar usage may be impacted. A person with Alzheimer’s Disease may also respond ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to a question that requires a different response, or laugh at an inappropriate time.
There are ways you can make it easier to communicate with someone with dementia. Speaking clearly helps to reduce frustration or confusion about what you are trying to say. Speaking slowly and using simple, shorter sentences allows the person time to process what you are saying. Avoid asking a list of questions and embrace silence. Listen carefully to what the person has to say and help with confusion if it won’t cause embarrassment.
For more assistance in coping with common challenges of Alzheimer’s and easing stress at home, MyHealios behavioral therapy provides practical training as well as valuable support for caregivers and family members. Three key things to know about Alzheimer’s Disease.
Three key things to know about Alzheimer’s Disease
- Alzheimer’s Disease is not a normal part of aging.
We all forget faces, muddle up the names of our friends and walk into a room and wonder why we’ve gone in there. But Alzheimer’s Disease is different. With Alzheimer’s Disease, memory problems affect life every day, in a way that disrupts activities.
- Early diagnosis improves quality of life
An early diagnosis helps improve the quality of life for the person with dementia and their loved ones. This is because after diagnosis, patients and families can access appropriate medication, support, and services.
- There is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s Disease
While there is no cure for Alzheimer’s at this time, with targeted support, people can live well with dementia for many years. And there are several medications available that may reduce people’s symptoms and help to improve their quality of life.
Caring for someone with Alzheimer’s Disease
Caring for someone with Alzheimer’s Disease can be challenging and can impact on your health, well-being, confidence, and social life. Your relationship with your loved one will change, and you may experience added stress as your role as a caregiver evolves or as your loved one’s condition progresses. You may need to develop new skills and make changes in your life to accommodate caregiving. From dressing to finances and navigating the healthcare system, no one is expected to be an expert immediately. There are, fortunately, many services available to help patients living with Alzheimer’s, their families, loved ones, and caregivers adapt to this life change. MyHealios online family behavioral therapy is one of them – providing emotional support, practical skills training, communication techniques, and stress-reducing skills to help caregivers maintain more balance and look after themselves, as well as their loved one.
Did you know that active, involved, knowledgeable caregivers and loved ones can play a key role in helping patients achieve goals and improve well-being? We encourage you to embrace your ability to make this difference for the person you care about and care for.