Neha Jayaram, Communications and Marketing Specialist
Alzheimer’s can cause memory loss, difficulty performing daily activities, and changes in judgement, reasoning, behaviour, and emotions. These symptoms are irreversible, which means that any loss of abilities cannot come back.
Just because the disease is progressive and has no cure, does not mean end of life for your loved one. Symptoms of Azlheimer’s can be managed with medication and can improve quality of life for several years. Research also shows that quality of life can be significantly improved by being involved in meaningful activities like exercise, music and the company of other people.
An early diagnosis can mean that treatment/symptom management can begin earlier and have a greater impact on the progression of the disease. The Alzheimer’s Society of Toronto has put together some warning signs to look out for:
1. Loss of memory affecting daily activities: People may forget appointments, phone numbers or even a colleague’s name from time to time, and this is normal. However, someone with Alzheimer’s may forget things more often and even have trouble recalling things that they have recently learned.
2. Difficulty performing familiar tasks: Our busy lives mean that we can get distracted and forget simple things like serving part of a meal. A person with Alzheimer’s though may have trouble performing familiar tasks they have done their whole life, like how to prepare a meal or play a game.
3. Problems with language: A person with Alzheimer’s may have trouble remembering simple words or use the wrong word, making it difficult to understand them.
4. Disorientation: A person with Alzheimer’s may get lost on their own street, unsure of how to get home. They may get confused with what day of the week it is, or what year it is.
5. Impaired judgement: Wearing thin clothing on a cold day, not recognizing a medical condition that requires attention, can be signs that a person has Alzheimer’s disease
6. Problems with abstract thinking: A person with Alzheimer’s may have trouble performing tasks that require abstract thinking, like balancing a chequebook.
7. Misplacing things: People misplace their keys and wallets all the time. But a person with Alzheimer’s may put things in the wrong place and forget, for example, keys in the freezer, or their phone in the sugar bowl.
8. Changes in behaviour, mood and personality: A person with Alzheimer’s can show varied mood swings– from calmness to tears to rage. They may even show significant personality changes like becoming withdrawn, suspicious or confused.
9. Loss of interest or initiative: A person with Alzheimer’s may lose interest in daily activities, become passive and disinterested and may require prompting to become involved.
Alzheimer’s Diagnosis: What to Expect and What’s Next?
If you or your loved one has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, knowing what to expect as the disease progresses can help you to continue enjoying your life as well as plan for the future. Having the right information is important when living with Alzheimer’s.
The following information has been taken from Alzheimer’s Society of Toronto’s Core Literature
The Stages of Alzheimer’s disease
Alzheimer’s disease typically follows certain stages, which are commonly described as “early,” “middle,” “late” and “end of life.” In most cases, Alzheimer’s disease progresses slowly over a course of seven to ten years but may be much longer in other cases. Stages are useful in helping us talk about and understand the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.
However, it is important to realize that Alzheimer’s disease affects each person differently. At each stage, the duration varies from person to person and the symptoms may overlap. Progression from one stage to another is usually quite subtle.
In the early stage, memory loss becomes noticeable to the person with Alzheimer’s disease and to those around them. Complex tasks such as balancing a bank account and social aspects such as following a conversation may become challenging. For those who are still working, daily family and work commitments may become more complicated. However, for the most part, people with early stage Alzheimer’s disease retain many of their abilities and require very little assistance.
An early diagnosis enables you to take advantage of medications and other means to slow down the disease, to plan for your future, and to contribute to your community.
A person’s ability to perform daily living activities declines substantially during this stage. The middle stage is full of challenges, and everyone involved will need help and support. As the disease progresses and affects different areas of the brain, various abilities are lost. Thinking and memory problems increase and a person will require help with many daily activities, such as bathing and dressing themselves. Restlessness, sleep pattern changes and hallucinations may also occur.
Family and caregiver involvement increases dramatically and additional at home help or moving to a care home may be needed.
The focus of care at this stage is to support the person with dementia to ensure the highest quality of life possible, both physically and emotionally. A person with late stage Alzheimer’s disease will eventually become unable to communicate verbally, walk independently or sit without support. Care is required 24 hours a day. In many cases, the person will need to live in a care home. If the person remains at home, added support will be needed.
Activities should be tailored to remaining strengths and abilities, taking into consideration the person’s history, likes and dislikes. Although a person in late stage Alzheimer’s disease may not have the capacity to understand or respond as in the past, they are still likely to feel affection, respond to music or familiar and meaningful objects and benefit from reassurance.
End of life
At the end of their lives, most people with Alzheimer’s disease are being cared for in a care home. The person can still experience emotions even though they are unable to express them. Knowing what to expect during this difficult period can lessen the anxiety faced by family members and help them avoid making difficult decisions in a crisis. Respecting the expressed wishes of the person with Alzheimer’s disease should guide all end-of-life care decisions, which is why it’s recommended to have the care plan discussed fully when the individual is first diagnosed.
SCHC’s Adult Day Program serves adults 55 years of age and older who are frail, have been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease or other types of dementia, are living with a disability, and/or are socially isolated. The program provides a range of therapeutic and recreational activities to clients, while caregivers can enjoy a few hours of respite.
Click on the video above to hear Dania Ferguson, Program Coordinator of the Adult Day Program tell us more about the disease and give advice to caregivers.
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