Alzheimer’s disease is the leading form of dementia among older people, 1 in 11 Canadians over the age of 65 currently has Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia. It is a progressive, degenerative disease of the brain, which causes thinking and memory to become seriously impaired. Symptoms can include loss of memory, judgment and reasoning, and changes in mood, behaviour and communication abilities. While there is no current cure for Alzheimer’s and current treatments cannot stop the progression, treatments have been shown to temporarily slow the worsening of symptoms and improve quality of life.
To help you know what warning signs to look for, the Alzheimer Society has developed the following list, be sure to discuss any symptoms with your medical professional.
- Memory loss that affects day-to-day function
It’s normal to occasionally forget appointments, colleagues’ names or a friend’s phone number and remember them later. A person with Alzheimer’s disease may forget things more often and not remember them later, especially things that have happened more recently.
- Difficulty performing familiar tasks
Busy people can be so distracted from time to time that they may leave the carrots on the stove and only remember to serve them at the end of a meal. A person with Alzheimer’s disease may have trouble with tasks that have been familiar to them all their lives, such as preparing a meal.
- Problems with language
Everyone has trouble finding the right word sometimes, but a person with Alzheimer’s disease may forget simple words or substitute words, making her sentences difficult to understand.
- Disorientation of time and place
It’s normal to forget the day of the week or your destination — for a moment. But a person with Alzheimer’s disease can become lost on their own street, not knowing how they got there or how to get home.
- Poor or decreased judgment
People may sometimes put off going to a doctor if they have an infection, but eventually seek medical attention. A person with Alzheimer’s disease may have decreased judgment, for example not recognizing a medical problem that needs attention or wearing heavy clothing on a hot day.
- Problems with abstract thinking
From time to time, people may have difficulty with tasks that require abstract thinking, such as balancing a cheque book. Someone with Alzheimer’s disease may have significant difficulties with such tasks, for example not recognizing what the numbers in the cheque book mean.
- Misplacing things
Anyone can temporarily misplace a wallet or keys. A person with Alzheimer’s disease may put things in inappropriate places: an iron in the freezer or a wristwatch in the sugar bowl.
- Changes in mood and behaviour
Everyone becomes sad or moody from time to time. Someone with Alzheimer’s disease can exhibit varied mood swings — from calm to tears to anger — for no apparent reason.
- Changes in personality
People’s personalities can change somewhat with age. But a person with Alzheimer’s disease can become confused, suspicious or withdrawn. Changes may also include apathy, fearfulness or acting out of character.
- Loss of initiative
It’s normal to tire of housework, business activities or social obligations, but most people regain their initiative. A person with Alzheimer’s disease may become very passive, and require cues and prompting to become involved.
It is important to know and watch for the symptoms. Ask your family doctor or to learn more go to www.alzheimer.ca
COMMUNICATION TIPS FOR THE CAREGIVER
- Set the stage:
Communicating is always easier when other things are not happening at the same time. Make sure distractions are kept to a minimum
- Get the person’s attention:
Approach the person slowly, from the front. Gently touch a hand or arm to get their attention. Wait until they are ready to listen before talking.
- Make eye contact:
Sit facing or standing in front of him/her, if possible. Keeping eye contact will help the person know who is speaking and may assist the person in concentrating on the message.
- Speak Slowly and clearly:
Use simple sentences to make the message clear. If the person has a hearing problem, lowering the pitch of your voice is often better than increasing its volume.
- Give one message at a time:
Keep a conversation simple. Too many thoughts or ideas at one time can be confusing. Limit choices
- Pay attention:
The person’s reaction to what you say can give you some idea of how much is understood. Watch facial expressions and body movements. Respond to moods and emotions especially when the words don’t make sense or are inappropriate.
- Repeat important information:
If you are uncertain the message was understood the first time, repeat it using the same words.
- Show and talk:
Use actions as well as words. For example “time to go for a walk”, point to the door or bring the person’s coat or sweater to illustrate what you mean.
- Take time:
Allow the person time to respond. Interrupting can discourage further communication.