While memory loss is part of the normal process of aging, it's important to be aware of the signs and symptoms that indicate a memory disorder such as Alzheimer's disease. As our population continues to live longer, the prevalence of Alzheimer's has increased and yet our understanding of it is still quite limited.
By recognizing and addressing the warning signs of this disease early on, steps can be taken to slow its progression and ensure the safety and well-being of a loved one faced with Alzheimer's.
Alzheimer's and Other Causes of Dementia
According to the National Institute on Aging, Alzheimer's disease (AD) is "an irreversible, progressive brain disease that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills and, eventually, the ability to carry out the simplest tasks of daily living." The disease is the most common cause of dementia, which refers to abnormal memory loss and a decline in actions such as decision-making, judgment, reasoning and communication.
Other types of dementia include vascular dementia, caused by a series of small strokes in the brain, and Lewy Body disease, marked by abnormal structures in the brain. Due to similarities in the symptoms of these conditions, diagnosis can be difficult in early stages of the diseases.
Warning Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer's
The following warning signs commonly indicate the onset of AD, particularly when more than one of these conditions is noticeable:
- Memory loss that affects the ability to perform daily activities
- Difficulty in finding the right words when communicating
- Becoming disoriented in places that were once familiar and losing track of time (date, year)
- Inability or decreased ability to make sound decisions
- Difficulty with abstract thought
- Frequently losing or misplacing things
- Changes in typical demeanor, mood and actions
As soon as these warning signs and symptoms have been identified, it is important to schedule an evaluation with a primary care physician or geriatrician. Due to their history with a patient, primary care physicians can recognize changes in mood and behavior.
If Alzheimer's disease is suspected, a physician will conduct further testing, which typically includes a Mini-Mental State Exam (MMSE). If a senior's memory loss and mental ability is compromised to the point of creating safety concerns, a physician may also order an inpatient geriatric-psychiatric examination at a hospital specializing in geriatric care.
Alzheimer's Care Options
As Alzheimer's disease typically progresses at a slow rate over 3-5 years (on average), care options range from minimal home care to secured memory care depending on the timing of diagnosis. In the early stages of the disease, a senior may only require assistance with medication reminders, which can be provided by a loved one or home care agency.
Senior living communities that offer both assisted living and secured Alzheimer's care allow those suffering from the disease to 'age in place', which is ideal for seniors and their families. Assisted living services ensure that activities of daily living (ADLs) such as bathing, dressing, toileting and transferring are maintained and the level of care is customized as needs increase over time.
Secured memory care is particularly important as Alzheimer's progresses due to the frequency of wandering, which poses a significant safety risk. Communities specializing in Alzheimer's and dementia care ensure that their residents receive appropriate care and social interaction while providing emotional support for family members as well.
Paying for Alzheimer's Care
Due to the non-medical nature of Alzheimer's care, it is most commonly paid for privately or with long-term care insurance if the policy was purchased prior to diagnosis. Medicare covers skilled nursing care needs but does not provide coverage for home care or assisted living services.
Medicaid, a program for which seniors must financially qualify, is typically not accepted at senior living communities that offer Alzheimer's care. If the eligibility requirements are met for Veteran's Aid & Attendance, seniors receiving benefits can use this additional source of income to cover their care expenses.
Find Alzheimer's Care
There are thousands of quality Alzheimer's care facilities across the country that are willing and able to provide the care and security that seniors with memory loss need to feel happy and safe. Browse our comprehensive directory to Find Alzheimer's Care.
Written by gerontologist Sara Shelton.