Thousands of spouses, adult children, family members and friends may be dealing with caring for someone in their lives who has Alzheimer's disease which progressively erodes the mind.
The Alzheimer's Association offers support groups, hotlines, education and personal consultations to help Alzheimer's patients and their caregivers. In addition, there are community resources that also are available with services.
Here are ways that loved ones can begin to prepare and cope:
Knowledge is power. It is recommended to put resources into place right away when a loved one is diagnosed with Alzheimer's.
The Alzheimer's Association provides free training programs for caregivers on topics from meeting challenges that will occur as Alzheimer's progresses and affects communication and behavior to making holidays more enjoyable.
Alzheimer's progresses through three stages that tends to last from eight to 20 years. In the beginning, people experiencing signs and symptoms of Alzheimer's are able to hide it such as through isolating themselves.
The second stage is when abnormal behavior escalates, even though family members are likely to believe the changes aren't serious.
Alzheimer's often is first diagnosed after an emergency occurs.
In this stage, the patient's abnormal thought processes can cause delusions, paranoia and hallucinations.
This is when caregiver stress gets really high.
In late stages, patients become uncommunicative and may not be able to recognize that a visitor is a family member and not someone they only vaguely remember.
This doesn't mean that all patients exhibit the same symptoms or progress in the same way. They are still individuals.
Know what isn't Alzheimer's
Not all dementia is Alzheimer's and for some who are exhibiting signs of confusion and abnormal behavior, dementia can be reversed with the right diagnosis and medical care. There are about 10 conditions -- some quite common -- that can produce dementia as side effects.
Surprisingly, urinary tract infections, thyroid deficiencies, depression and loss of vision or hearing also can lead to dementia-like symptoms that disappear or improve after the basic cause is treated or corrected.
Create legal documents
Two important documents to have are powers of attorney and advance directives.
Powers of attorney allow people to name who should make medical and financial decisions in the event they are unable to do so. This should be created when the Alzheimer's patient is in early stages; otherwise it won't be legally recognized if the patient already was incapacitated.
An advanced directive states how much life-prolonging care, such as through ventilators or feeding tubes, someone wants in any future medical crisis.
Make an emergency plan
Emergencies occur in caring for Alzheimer's patients that involve the caregiver or the patient. Make back-up plans in advance -- with a list of who to call, starting with the first contact to be made and who to call next if that person can't be reached.
Also, a side effect of Alzheimer's is wandering. A program called Safe Return, that supplies identification bracelets for patients and puts out alerts about those who are lost, also can locate family members through its registry.
Get extra help
Being a caregiver for an Alzheimer's patient is notoriously stressful, but there are services that can provide respite care and in-home help. If you have done all that you can and it is time to bring your loved one to assisted living in Richmond, VA, contact Spring Arbor.