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Could Your Parent have Alzheimer's?

- Monday, December 05, 2011

It's normal for people to become more forgetful as they age. So how can we tell the difference between a senior moment and Alzheimer's disease? One in eight people 65 and older have this form of dementia. In its first stages, Alzheimer's may not be obvious to friends and family. But there are some early warning signs to watch for.

Warning Sign:  Memory and Speech
In early Alzheimer's, long-term memories usually remain intact and short-term memories become sketchy. Your loved one may forget conversations you had or questions that were already answered. Alzheimer’s disrupts speech, so patients may struggle to remember common words.

Warning Sign: Behavior
In addition to memory loss, Alzheimer's can cause confusion and behavior changes. They may get lost in familiar places. Poor hygiene, mood swings and poor judgment are also common. Those who once cared for their appearance may begin to dress in stained clothes and have unwashed hair.

Don't Ignore the Signs
While it's difficult to face the possibility that a loved one could have Alzheimer's, visiting a doctor sooner rather than later is better. The diagnosis might not be Alzheimer's after all relieving you of unnecessary stress. And if it is Alzheimer's, treatments work best when they are used early in the course of the disease.

Alzheimer's Progression: What to Expect
Alzheimer's shows differently in every patient. In some the symptoms worsen quickly, leading to severe memory loss and confusion within a few years. In others, the changes may be more gradual with the disease taking 20 years to run its course. The average length of survival after a diagnosis of Alzheimer's is three to nine years.

How Alzheimer's Affects Daily Life
Because Alzheimer's affects concentration, patients may lose the ability to manage ordinary tasks. A study suggests difficulty balancing a checkbook is often one of the first effects of Alzheimer's. As the symptoms worsen, your loved one may not recognize familiar people or places. They may get lost easily, or use utensils improperly. Incontinence, balance problems, and loss of language are common in the advanced stages.

Alzheimer's and Exercise
Exercise can help Alzheimer's patients maintain some muscle strength and coordination. It also improves mood and may reduce anxiety. Check with your loved one's doctor to learn which types of exercise are appropriate. Repetitive activities, such as walking, weeding, or even folding laundry may be the most effective at promoting a sense of calm.

Assisted Living Facilities
There may come a day when your loved one can no longer be cared for at home. An assisted-living facility may be an appropriate choice, or a facility with levels of Alzheimer's care, so the services the facility provides can progress with the patient. Assisted Living Communities provide housing, meals, and activities. Look for a facility with an Alzheimer's special care unit, which delivers 24-hour supervision and personal care to meet the needs of people with dementia.

Original article WebMD