In November of 1983, President Ronald Reagan declared November to be Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. Over the last 35 years, the number of reported Alzheimer’s cases has more than doubled. In 1983, less than two million Americans had been diagnosed. Today, the number has skyrocketed to almost 5.4 million. While some believe the increase is due to genetics and poor lifestyle, others are more likely to attribute the soaring numbers to the use of artificial sweeteners and exposure to other environmental toxins. Studies continue to be performed in an attempt to identify potential causes and risks that will support more effective treatment options.
Alzheimer’s is one of many brain disorders that make up the Dementia category. It progresses slowly and over time gradually deteriorates a person’s memory and begins to dramatically limit their ability to perform normal, everyday tasks. Brain functions also decrease, causing confusion and loss of memory recall. As their memory is altered and they begin to lose the knowledge of the ones closest to them, their personality may also begin to change. This can lead to violent and aggressive behaviors as they become more out of touch with reality.
Signs and Symptoms
With an increase in the number of early onset Alzheimer’s, age is no longer a primary factor. Instead, doctors look for instances where the person has a hard time remembering appointments or dates. They also look for patients who have trouble completing tasks that normally would be second nature. Some may forget how to use the television remote or how to work the controls on a stove or microwave. These simple tasks are ones that a person rarely has to think about to perform. When they begin to become more difficult, it’s possible the person may be experiencing the earliest stages of Alzheimer’s.
Alzheimer’s is much more than memory loss or simply forgetting how to perform a normal task. A person may lose their ability to communicate effectively, either verbally or when trying to write things down. They may become disoriented when in a strange location and not remember where they are or how to get back home. Lack of interest in favorite activities is also possible. These are the changes that appear slowly. In some cases, you may not even realize a loved one is acting this way until they do something that is extremely out of character.
One of the most important things to remember is that the person experiencing the changes may not realize they are becoming more forgetful or that their habits are changing. If they do notice, they may chalk it up to just having a bad day. If you notice that a loved one is beginning to show possible signs of Alzheimer’s, talk to them. Encourage them to go to the doctor. Let them know that you will be there when they need you. There have been many advancements in Alzheimer’s treatment, especially when caught in the earliest stages.
Offer Support to Caregivers
For friends and family members who care for a loved one with Alzheimer’s, offer your support. Watching a loved one physically and emotionally deteriorate is difficult and can be extremely stressful. You can offer support in many different ways.
- Offer to stay with the loved one while they run errands or take a few hours of time for themselves
- Make yourself available to talk if they have a bad day and need someone to vent to
- Cook dinner for them so they don’t have to worry about it for a night
These are simple things you can do that will let them know they aren’t alone. It only takes one random act of kindness to let someone know you care.
When the loved one’s condition reaches the advanced stages, hospice may be called in to assist the caregiver a few times a week. Hospice of South Georgia provides hospice services to families in Lowndes County who are coping with a loved one with Alzheimer’s. What started as a small group of volunteers 30 years ago, now is a flourishing endeavor that offers assistance and peace of mind to caregivers and their family members. They work in nursing homes and assisted living facilities, as well as visiting patients in their homes, providing the care they need and giving caregivers a small break and the reassurance that their loved one is in good hands. According to Lindsey Ryan of HSG, “We serve at the very end of the disease, treating symptoms and supporting the family emotionally.”
Reach Out for Help
If you are the caregiver for someone who has recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or if you believe a loved one is showing signs of the disease, call your doctor and schedule an appointment. Early diagnosis is essential when trying to find the right treatment options. It will also give you the information you need to make informed decisions concerning their health care. Talk to them. Share your concerns and express those concerns to healthcare professionals. Start to create your support system as soon as a diagnosis is made, that way you will have resources in place as the condition continues to progress.
Alzheimer’s can slowly take away everything your loved one knows. It can be difficult to watch, but it’s important that you maintain a positive outlook and do everything possible to make sure they know they are loved. With new advancements in Alzheimer’s treatment, the goal is to slow down the progression of the disease allowing the person to maintain a full and active lifestyle for as long as possible.
If you are interested in learning more about Hospice of South Georgia, you can call 229-433-7000 or visit hospiceofsouthgeorgia.org