Don't Face Alzheimer's Alone
(Video from Alzheimers.gov - a free information source about Alzheimers)
When I noticed behavior changes in my mom, I feared she might have Alzheimer's. My grandmother developed Alzheimer's in her seventies. I knew that heredity played a part in Alzheimer's risk. But I didn't know many facts about dementia or Alzheimer's. Dementia describes a range of symptoms that affect a person's memory and thinking abilities. Alzheimer's disease is one type of dementia and accounts for 60 to 80 percent of cases.
According to the Alzheimer's Association, one in eight Americans 65 and over are suffering from Alzheimer's. More than half are women. Every 68 seconds, someone in America develops Alzheimer's. It is the sixth leading cause of death in the US and out of the top ten leading causes, it is the only one that cannot be prevented or cured. About 800,000 people with Alzheimer's live alone, increasing their risk of falls/broken bones, infections, malnutrition and dehydration.
|Mom, third from the left, staying active with family.|
Barry Reisberg, M.D. identifies this as part of mild cognitive decline, third of a seven tiered framework of Alzheimer's stages. A progressive disease, Alzheimer's symptoms might not be immediately noticeable and people progress at different rates.
Everyone forgets things from time to time. Who hasn't forgotten their next word, or mixed up the names of their own children? But what should you do if you suspect your loved one might be dealing with dementia?
How Do I Know?
There are no screening tests that diagnose dementia. It is diagnosed by reviewing symptoms and ruling out other conditions such as depression, infection, diabetes, brain tumor, small strokes, even certain vitamin deficiencies. It is important to consult a skilled health care provider in order to diagnose dementia.
The Alzheimer's Association lists information for what to expect during an examination and a doctor's office checklist that will help you and your caregiver prepare for your appointment. There are identified risk factors:
- Close blood relative has Alzheimer's
- History of head trauma
- High blood pressure for a long time
- Being female
- Being older
- Have certain genes linked to Alzheimer's, such as APOE epsilon4 allele
Many families struggle with the high cost of anti-dementia drugs. Insurance might cover only a portion of the cost. The free FamilyWize discount prescription card helps manage the costs associated with dementia treatment for the following popular anti-dementia medications:
- Aricept and Aricept ODT
- Razadyne and Razadyne ER
- Pain killers
- Sleeping pills
After my mother fell in our home, injuring her back, the ER doctor prescribed Darvocet for pain. It's a standard pain medication. She became unresponsive to me the next day. She was more confused than normal. We went back to the ER and found that she had a reaction to Darvocet and determined that pain medicines increase her confusion.
I learned quickly to keep print outs of my mom's medications and dosages, along with instructions for what she can/cannot take. I give this to the emergency response team if we call 911, the ER nurse and doctor.
As caregivers, we are our loved one's advocate. I've had to take my mom to the ER many times in the past two years. Sometimes we go to the ER, come home, and go right back because she has taken another fall. For people living with dementia this can be the norm. We are part of our loved one's medical team. It's not only the doctors and nurses who administer treatments. We are a vital part of the decision making and we are the main line of communication between the professionals and our loved one.
Tips for Caregivers
The Alzheimer's Association has many links for caregivers, even caregiver dementia training.
- Taking good care of yourself to avoid burnout.
- Free e-learning workshops are available to help with legal issues, dealing with stress, living with dementia.
- Daily routines will help avoid stress and enhance quality of life.
- Contact your local Alzheimer's Association to find out about help available in your area.
Life's Full of Surprises
Remember that you are not alone when dealing with Alzheimer's. Take time to enjoy the moments that you have. Some days mom doesn't know who I am. I'm the girl who lives here with her. This can be a heart breaking moment in dealing with Alzheimer's. Don't let it get you down. After all, when we were teenagers and we used to try to act like we didn't know them when out in public! Paybacks are....kinda funny sometimes, actually. Mom and I try to laugh a lot. We've learned to let go of a lot from the past, but I also have fun getting to know my new daredevil mama who bought herself a new red car earlier this year.
It's not a little red corvette, but mom's dealing with dementia in style!
Full-time Caregiver and Contributing Writer