Alzheimer’s disease is the fourth leading cause of death of Americans, after heart disease, cancer, and stroke. Worldwide, over 47 million people have the disease, and 76 million are expected to have the disease by 2030. While it is most commonly a condition of the elderly, doctors have discovered that even people in their 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s can have it. One out of two people over 85 has some form of dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form.
Handling the Diagnosis
No one wants to hear the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. For most people, it brings to mind a slow, steady march downward – from experiencing only mild memory problems to eventually becoming unable to perform basic tasks independently. In reality, the disease isn’t as straightforward. Every patient experiences the disease differently. Some doctors are even beginning to consider Alzheimer’s as a spectrum disorder, one that manifests in many different ways. So, what happened to your grandmother or your neighbor with Alzheimer’s may not happen to your loved one.
Becoming a Caregiver
When your loved one is diagnosed, you may find yourself with a new role, too: caregiver. It’s not an easy job. It’s important to first read up on becoming an Alzheimer’s caregiver. Research local support groups. Ask your doctor about programs that could benefit you as a caregiver and your loved one as a patient. Talk to other caregivers and learn from their experiences.
Make sure to take care of yourself, too, and allow yourself the support and help you need. You will get sick, exhausted, and busy. Let other people help you. Your family and friends may not know what support you need, so you may have to let them know how they can help. You’re probably not a medical professional, so you may second-guess your decisions.
Be patient with yourself, just like you’re patient with your loved one. When you need to, consider hiring in-home help or look into residential care facilities when the time comes.
As Alzheimer’s progresses, don’t dwell on the losses that the disease brings. Instead, focus on the capabilities that remain and can be used and enjoyed. Continue to celebrate life, and encourage your family and friends to help you arrange birthday parties, weddings, and holiday festivities. Think of it as “living with Alzheimer’s,” not “dying from Alzheimer’s.”
And – living with Alzheimer’s doesn’t have to be a complete change. Activities that your loved one enjoyed before Alzheimer’s can be adapted to suit their current needs and abilities. Plan outings based on what you learn about your loved one’s daily schedule and needs; plan around what time of day they’re at their best, for example, or plan to get home before they tire out.
Sometimes caregivers hesitate to venture out to events or restaurants with people with Alzheimer’s because they may do or say unexpected or embarrassing things when out in public. Consider using a card, like a business card, to let others – restaurant servers, for example – know about the person’s disease.
“My family member has Alzheimer’s disease. She might say or do unexpected things. Thank you for understanding.”