Alzheimer’s statistics are daunting. Half of Americans older than 85 will have Alzheimer’s disease, as will one in eight Americans older than 65.
It’s the only major disease whose occurrence is not in decline in the U.S. It’s the only one with no known cure or prevention, and no one knows even how to slow the progression.
“The predictions are just staggering for what’s going to happen with baby boomers,” Peg Bratton with the Alzheimer’s Association said.
Bratton, a registered nurse and gerontological master’s level educator, talked about the disease and provided suggestions for handling its progression.
The strongest risk factors for getting Alzheimer’s are age, family history and gender, with women making up about two thirds of those who have it. Early-onset Alzheimer’s is becoming more common, with some people showing symptoms in their 40s and 50s.
“The researchers do not know why,” Bratton said.
She described three main stages of Alzheimer’s disease, with the early stage characterized by forgetfulness and mild symptoms, though a person is still able to live at home.
During the second stage, those with the disease may start showing more confusion. Family members may notice changes in personality.
During the third stage, patients need full-time care.
Bratton said the distinctions are never clear-cut, and no one progresses through the disease the same way.
“Nothing’s black and white. It’s all gray,” she said.
She recommended that those who are in the early stages of the disease designate someone with power of attorney and consider advanced directives, which are their care preferences in the event they are unable to communicate.
“It’s very important that some member of the family has durable power of attorney,” she said.
Everyone should consider long-term care insurance that provides for assisted living facilities in Richmond, VA and elsewhere in the country, and home health care, she said.
Bratton encouraged those caring for someone with dementia to avoid arguing with that person whenever possible, even if that means telling a white lie.
“It just escalates and escalates and you’re not going to win,” she said.
It’s also helpful to avoid giving an Alzheimer’s patient too many choices, as that can be overwhelming.
When preparing food, give a person with Alzheimer’s or dementia one or two types of food on their plate.
“If they have too many things, they don’t know what to do with it,” Bratton said.
Above all, she said, don’t argue.
“It’s worse for you and it’s bad for the person who has Alzheimer’s,” she said.
She also encouraged caregivers and family members to consider the perspective of the person they’re caring for. Many people with dementia are reluctant to bathe because the shower and tub mechanisms might be confusing, or the water could be frightening. Offer a sponge bath instead.
When talking to someone with dementia, Bratton suggested asking close-ended questions, which have a yes or no answer. She also suggested talking softly and kneeling to that person’s eye level.
The transition to a care facility may take several weeks, or it may take several months. Family members might feel guilt or relief, but that’s normal. She said family members shouldn’t visit every day.
“You need to lead a life,” she said.
The Alzheimer’s Association estimates the 5.4 million Americans have Alzheimer’s, which is the most common form of dementia. It’s the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States.
For information on Alzheimer's care and assisted living in Richmond, VA contact Spring Arbor.