The Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation receives a lot of questions from visitors to our website, readers of Preserving Your Memory and others who call our offices. Here are a few of the questions we hear frequently.
My husband has Alzheimer's and I am nervous about planning activities for us to do together. Can you offer some suggestions?
There are many different stages that a person with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia will go through; therefore, activities for individuals in the early or middle stages of the disease will differ from the end stage of Alzheimer’s.
- When planning activities for the person with Alzheimer’s disease, creating routine and structure is extremely important.
- In order to improve quality of life at each stage of the disease it is important to focus on the patient’s strengths and abilities, as well as their growing weaknesses. It is important to look at what the patient can do, not just what they cannot do. Planning activities is a process of trial and error involving continual exploration, experimentation, and adjustment.
- Activities can be passive or active. Some patients may participate in an activity, while others may only observe or watch.
My sister was diagnosed with Alzheimer's several years ago and I have a hard time talking to her because she doesn't understand the things that I am trying to tell her. We both get so frustrated and very angry with each other... I know she can't help it, but what can I do differently?
- As Alzheimer’s disease affects each area of the brain, certain functions or abilities can be lost. It is important for caregivers to remember that changes in a person’s behavior and ability to communicate may be related to the disease process.
- Alzheimer’s disease has a profound effect on language. The disease affects speech and the use of words, as well as the understanding of words. As the disease progresses, language as a means of communicating becomes less effective. Caregivers need to use different ways of communicating their message and staying in touch.
- When speaking to an Alzheimer’s patient, make sure there are few distractions. It is easier to communicate if other things are not happening at the same time. Television or radio should be turned off.
- The tone of your voice is very important in speech. Speak slowly and articulate to help the person hear and process the words. Sit facing or stand in front of the person and make eye contact. When doing something, like dressing, for an Alzheimer’s patient, ask the patient if it’s OK first. Simply moving a patient in the early or mid-stage of the disease around without respecting their physical integrity can have very negative effects.
Can you give me some facts on Alzheimer's? I want to share them with my church group.
- Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia affecting between 5 million and 5.5 million Americans.
- 1 in 10 Americans over age 65 and nearly 1 in 2 Americans over age 85 currently have Alzheimer’s disease.
- Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive disease which advances in stages from mild forgetfulness and cognitive impairment to wide spread loss of mental abilities and total dependence on a caregiver. The time from the onset of symptoms until death ranges from three to 20 years with the average duration lasting about eight years.
- The progressive loss of cognitive function is accompanied by pathologic (disease-associated) changes in the brain.
My attorney want me to assign a health care proxy because I was just diagnosed with Alzheimer's and eventually won't be able to make medical decisions myself. What is a health care proxy?
- Alzheimer’s disease is one of the most emotionally draining and traumatic diseases for patients and families alike. The progressive, degenerative nature of Alzheimer’s disease presents unique challenges for health care proxies. A health care proxy is one type of advance directives and estate planning set up by an elder law attorney.
- During the end stages of Alzheimer’s disease, the patient typically loses the ability to communicate effectively with their loved ones, adding an additional burden to the health care proxy.
- It is essential for families to openly discuss end-of-life care early while the person with Alzheimer’s still has the ability to communicate their wishes.
- Families can often benefit from a mediator (an independent third party, usually a social worker) to facilitate the discussion of end-of-life care.
- You want to choose someone who you trust, who understands your wishes and who is willing and able to follow them. This may be your well spouse, adult child, or other friend or relative.
Are there things that I can do to keep my mind sharp?
- Normal aging does not have to mean forgetfulness and memory loss.
- Studies have shown that staying physically active reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, and bone loss caused by osteoporosis.
- Daily exercise of only 30 minutes can improve blood flow to the brain, and aerobic exercise, like brisk walking, swimming, or bicycling increases stamina and endurance as well as mood.
- At any age, the brain can continue to absorb new information, make new connections, and acquire new skills, which all help to enhance memory. Learning new things creates excitement, which helps to keep your mind active and sharp.
Are there specific warning signs or early symptoms of Alzheimer's that I should be aware of? I am 68 years old and I am starting to feel a little forgetful.
- Difficulty performing otherwise familiar tasks, such as preparing a meal, opening a car window, or using a household appliance can be signs of Alzheimer’s disease.
- Memory loss that affects job skills. It is normal to occasionally forget an assignment or a colleague’s phone number, but it is not normal to frequently forget such things or to become so confused that you are unable to concentrate and can not perform your job functions.
- Problems using language may be a sign of Alzheimer’s disease. Although it is normal to forget words, people with Alzheimer’s disease may become hard to understand and may substitute unusual words or phrases for forgotten ones. A person with Alzheimer’s disease may appear to have become less fluent and may also have difficulty writing coherently.
- Disorientation to time and place can be a sign. It is normal to sometimes lose track of time or to become lost, but a person with Alzheimer’s can forget what year it is and can become lost on familiar streets and not be able to find their way home.
Do you have a question you would like to ask the experts at the Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation? If so, please call 1-800-ALZINFO, visit ALZinfo.org, send surface mail to Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation; 110 East 42nd Street, 16th Floor; New York, NY 10017, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Source: www.ALZinfo.org. Preserving Your Memory: The Magazine of Health and Hope; Fall 2008.