Alzheimer’s disease – Advice for Families
Dementia affects people in different ways. Some people inhabit a bewildering and frightening place, while others seem totally unconcerned that their faculties are failing. Although dementia progresses gradually over time, it is sometimes helpful to consider the common symptoms at three phases: early, middle and late.
The early stage of Alzheimer’s disease is often overlooked, being incorrectly labelled by professionals, relatives and friends as ‘old age’, or as a normal part of the process of ageing. Because the onset of the disease is gradual, it is difficult to identify exactly when it begins.
The person may:
- Show difficulties with language – for example, not remembering the right word for something
- Experience memory loss – having particular problems with learning new facts and remembering recent events and conversations, or forthcoming appointments
- Be disorientated in time – losing track of time of thinking night is day
- Become lost in familiar places
- Display difficulty in making decisions
- Lack initiative and motivation
- Show signs of depression and aggravation
- Show a loss of interest in hobbies and activities
As the disease progresses, problems become more evident and restricting, to the extent that people can no longer manage to live alone without difficulties.
At this stage the person may:
- Become very forgetful – forgetting names of family members and important anniversaries, or leaving cooking on the stove, bills will go unpaid; they may forget to eat.
- Be unable to cook, clean or shop
- Need assistance with personal hygiene, including visiting the toilet, bathing and washing; they may become extremely dependant
- Need help with dressing
- Have increased difficulty with speech
- Wander and sometimes get lost
- Show various behavioural abnormalities, such as aggression or constantly following a carer round the house.
- Experience hallucinations or depression
This stage is generally one of significant dependence and loss of activity. Memory problems are very serious, and the physical side of the disease becomes more obvious.
The person may:
- Have difficulty eating
- Not recognise relatives, friends and familiar objects
- Have difficulty understanding and interpreting events
- Be unable to find his or her way around the home
- Have difficulty walking
- Suffer bladder and bowel incontinence
- Display inappropriate behaviour in public
- Be confined to a wheelchair or bed
It is important to remember that, as we get older, our memory does get worse – this is normal. For example, we have more difficulty remembering people’s names, or things we are going to buy in the shop. We may also forget appointments. Someone with ordinary forgetfulness, however, can still remember the details associated with the thing they have forgotten. For example, you may briefly forget your friend’s name, but you still know that the person you are talking to is your friend and you remember other things about them. People with dementia not only forget details, but the entire context.
- Don’t be put off if a doctor does not agree that there is a problem – if you are worried, seek a second opinion. Getting a diagnosis early is helpful
- Keep a list (or diary) of problems you notice before you see the doctor or specialist
- Once a diagnosis has been made, contact organisations that provide support and help
- Good communication with the GP and other therapists can make a big difference. It’s best to have the name of the professional you can contact
- Plan for the future, including making arrangements – such as taking a longed-for holiday; writing a will and sorting out an enduring power of attorney
- Don’t keep it secret from friends and family. Being aware of the diagnosis will help them come to terms with changes in function, personality and behaviour
- Make contact with social services – they may be able to help with day care, home care, etc.
- Look after your own health. Caring for someone with dementia can be time-consuming and demoralising. Make sure you get the benefits due to you and organise respite care
1-6 Tavistock Square,
Helpline:0800 169 2081
Alzheimer’s disease International:
64 Great Suffolk Street
Alzheimer’s Scotland – Action on Dementia
22 Drumsheugh Gardens
Alzheimer’s Society of Ireland
58 St Katharine’s Way
London E1W 1LB
Helpline: 0300 222 11 22