Archive for the ‘Alzheimer’s disease’ Category

Early Signs of Alzheimer’s Disease That May Come Before Memory Loss

Depression Of A Senior Woman

 

Memory loss is the main symptom that most people associate with Alzheimer’s disease, but it’s not the only sign. Researchers have identified several other common signs of Alzheimer’s that may come before memory loss. The following symptoms can be the first to appear in adults who develop Alzheimer’s disease.

Personality changes

There are many examples of Alzheimer’s-related personality changes that can occur before memory loss. A normally warm and friendly person may suddenly become a bit of a curmudgeon, or begin to say inappropriate things. Or, you may notice that the person is starting to make odd accusations. Other signs include:

*Developing uncharacteristic fears of new or unknown situations, or a distrust of others whether it’s familiar people or strangers.

*Signs of depression, or changes in sleep or appetite.

Issues such as these are often difficult to link to Alzheimer’s because medical conditions and aging may also cause changes in someone’s mood, behavior, or personality.

Vision Problems

Vision problems are also among early signs of Alzheimer’s that can precede memory loss. Symptoms may include trouble driving, navigating stairs, or judging distances. In more severe cases, the family member or loved one may not recognize herself or himself in a mirror, or when passing his or her reflection in a building or window.

Trouble with basic functioning

Struggling to carry out basic, familiar tasks is also among the early signs of Alzheimer’s. The person may have trouble following written directions, such as recipes. Or, he or she may struggle with their favorite hobby. Other signs can include failing to follow through with plans, not tracking bills, or finding themselves unable to solve simple problems that used to present no difficulty.

Additionally, you may notice that the person fails to complete tasks they were in the middle of doing – whether it’s baking a cake or making a repair.

Poor judgment

Making questionable decisions is also among the common early signs of Alzheimer’s. This might include making odd decisions in self-care, such as dressing inappropriately or neglecting basic personal hygiene. For example, the person may dress in a winter parka on a hot summer day, seemingly unaware that the clothing they’ve chosen is not weather-appropriate. Or you may see that a person who once took pride in their appearance no longer bothers with how they look.

Language problems

Other Alzheimer’s symptoms that can precede memory loss are word retrieval, and struggling to find the right word to complete a thought. This is a symptom that may come before more obvious issues such as repeating questions or stories. Language issues can be particularly frustrating for the person who fixates on finding the right word in the middle of a conversation. He or she may also forget or substitute words for everyday objects.

While anyone can experience these problems from time to time, they occur with increasing frequency for someone with dementia.

Trouble with finances

A person who is displaying early signs of Alzheimer’s may struggle with keeping their finances in order. They may have trouble balancing a checkbook and with other simple mathematical tasks, or forget to pay bills – issues they never had before. Or they may be more likely to fall for any number of financial scams targeting senior citizens.

Social withdrawal

Social withdrawal is another personality change that can be an early symptom of Alzheimer’s. Your loved one may struggle with not being in control of his or her faculties at all time – enough so that he or she may have less energy or desire to interact with others. They also may not be aware that they’re losing interest in interacting with friends and family because they’re focused on just getting through each day.

Embarrassment about their struggles and depression can also cause the sufferer to withdraw from family, friends and social situations.

Disorientation

Those who exhibit early signs of Alzheimer’s may become disoriented in unfamiliar or new environments, such as a hospital, airport, or hotel, or even in environments they know well. They may get lost while driving or after parking, or have trouble keeping appointments and remembering other events and commitments. Disorientation is typical in later stages of the disease but can also occur early on.

All of the symptoms listed above can go unnoticed for a long time and may be concealed by the person experiencing them, as these behaviors can cause understandable understandably distress. If you first notice these symptoms in someone you know, keep track of their behavior to see whether or not these behavior patterns become more obvious. If the answer is yes, encourage them to tell their doctor about what they’re experiencing.

7 Signs a Dementia Caregiver Needs a Break

stressed caregiver

 

If you’re caring for a loved one with dementia, you’ve probably experienced some rewarding moments as a caregiver. But the challenges of providing care for someone with dementia can become overwhelming. Despite how much you love the person you’re caring for, it’s not uncommon to suffer from burnout and need a break. In fact, research shows that family caregivers face a slew of physical and mental health problems due to the strain of caregiving.

It’s important to recognize the signs that it’s time to take a break and recharge both physically and mentally. Take time for self-evaluation and be honest with yourself. Are you running on empty? Is your life out of balance? All of the following may be signs that you’re nearing or already experiencing burnout, and are overdue for a break and some much needed self-care.

  1. Increased anger and irritation

If you find yourself losing your temper easily and getting angry with your loved one, or becoming increasingly short-tempered with other family members, it can be a sign that you’re suffering caregiver burnout. You may find your frustrations mounting as new obstacles and challenges arise, or if your loved one repeats the same behavior over and over. You may also notice that you raise your voice in anger more than ever before.

  1. Sleep issues

Caregiving can be physically demanding, as well as mentally demanding if your loved one wanders or has disrupted sleep. Your own sleep may become disrupted as you find yourself having trouble falling asleep and staying asleep, and waking up tired.

  1. Emotional outbursts

It’s only natural to feel a wide array of emotions, such as grieving and sadness, when caring for a loved whose condition is declining, but if you’re becoming more emotional and fragile, it may signal that it’s time for a break. Feelings of despair, dramatic mood swings, and unexpected crying are all signs of emotional overload. Remember, depression and increased anxiety are real risks for caregivers.

  1. Physical ailments

Reaching a breaking point as a caregiver can include a rough cycle of mental and emotional stress leading to physical disorders – which add to the stress you’re already experiencing. You may find yourself getting headaches and colds more frequently (and more intensely) than usual, or develop chronic pain such as neck and back pain. Perhaps you’ve even developed high blood pressure. While you may intend to take better care of yourself, you probably lack the time to do so, which only adds to your stress.

  1. Isolation

It can be easy to become isolated as a full-time caregiver, so much so that it may seem at times like you never see another adult besides the loved one you’re caring for. Or, you may feel like other family members don’t care as much about your loved one as you do, or that they don’t understand the depth of your daily caregiving responsibilities.

Your loved one’s behavior may make you feel that it’s too risky to spend any time away and, intentionally or not, you’ve become withdrawn. Social isolation can add to your stress instead of re-energizing you like being with others can.

  1. Lack of energy or motivation

There are many ways that lethargy can manifest itself, from a lack of energy, a decreased desire for trying to accomplish things, to feeling sluggish after a good night’s rest, or finding it hard to concentrate when you’re reading or doing other mental tasks. Performing the same routines daily as a caregiver can leave you feeling like you’re stuck in a rut, even if those routines enable your loved one to thrive. And some routines, like managing your loved one’s finances, can be more confusing and challenging than others.

  1. Family complaints

As a caregiver, it can seem like a better solution to take on the entire burden of care, feeling that you are the only one capable of keeping everything under control. It’s hard to imagine another way of doing things when you’re on the “front lines” and caring for your loved one on a daily basis.

But everyone needs help sometimes, so it’s important to be open to family and friends who may suggest that you’re not spending enough time with your other loved ones, or are neglecting the things that once gave you joy. You may even find yourself in an increasing number of arguments with other family members about your loved one’s care. It’s important to be willing to enlist help, whether  via unpaid assistance from loved ones or paid respite care.

 

 

 

Poetry Program Empowers Participants with Dementia

 

<Meyer leads a group of assisted living residents in a poetry session.

Meyer leads a group of assisted living residents in a poetry session.

 

The thought of elders with dementia drafting poems may be difficult to imagine. However, for one woman who lost both of her parents to Alzheimer’s disease, turning dementia patients into poets has become her passion.

“When caring for my parents, I was like so many caretakers who are focused on whether their loved one is taking their medicine correctly, eating properly, staying clean and kept safe, but it never occurred to me at the time about what I could have been doing for them that was stimulating, intellectual, creative, and allowed them to feel good about themselves,” says Molly Middleton Meyer.

While attending graduate school for creative writing, Meyer’s mother passed away.

“People would ask what I was going to do with my master’s degree, and the truth is I wasn’t sure, but I knew I wanted to give back something that I couldn’t give my parents,” she says. “I kept envisioning all the faces in memory care who I had come across while visiting my mother, and so many seemed stagnant.”

Meyer began researching art therapy as it relates to people with dementia. So began the makings of Mind’s Eye Poetry.

“I knew music was able to trigger memory and calm people, but I thought it wasn’t very intellectually stimulating. I wanted to give those with memory loss the ability to contribute, not just put headphones on and sink into themselves, but actually communicate with their fellow memory care residents, as well as possibly learn something,” she says.

Mind’s Eye Poetry’s mission is to engage elders in the writing process through guided hour-long sessions led by Meyer. She held her first poetry writing session in 2013 at an assisted living community in Dallas, Texas. Years later, she’s helped hundreds of people with dementia living in assisted living communities and nursing homes write more than 800 poems collectively.

A Typical Session

The poetry sessions are a unique break from the typical day in assisted living communities. Meyer begins by asking participants to think about a particular topic. “I may say, ‘Let’s talk about the ocean’, and see where it goes,” she says. “They’re so used to being talked to about routine mundane things like eating and changing that it’s out of the ordinary for them to have someone ask them to think about other things. Even the word ‘ocean’ will light up their faces and get the wheels turning.”

Meyer brings a bag of props, too. For instance, she may pull out a scarf and ask the elders to share how it relates to the ocean. “Someone may say ‘wind’ and then I’ll ask, ‘How does the wind feel by the ocean?’ All the sudden we’re into a sensory realm. I’ll get answers like ‘it smells like ice cream on the beach’ or ‘I can hear children laughing,'” she says.

Part of the program includes reading poems related to the topic aloud.

“It’s scientifically proven that when people listen to poetry their brain reacts in a different way than if they just listen to someone talk, so I like them to hear the symbolism and metaphors, and even if they don’t really understand it all, their brains are hearing different language than they normally do day to day,” she says.

Meyer asks participants a variety of open-ended questions. From their responses, she creates short poems that she reads back to them.

“This is when the whole empowerment piece comes into play, which is one of the greatest gifts that I’ve given to people. When I read the poems back to them that they helped contribute to there are physical indications that they’re feeling empowered. They sit up straighter, lean in, talk to each other,” she says.

Each group creates three or more poems, depending on the stage of their dementia. Afterwards, Meyer types out their work and sends it to the communities. “The poems have a life that goes beyond the session. I’ve seen some places make scrap books or frame them so the elders can share them with family.”

Meyer says that while the finished poems are phenomenal, the process is just as rewarding.

“It’s really about getting people to relate, think and be empowered, as well as add joy to their day,” she says.

Get Poetic with Your Loved One

If your loved one’s assisted living facility doesn’t offer this type of program or they still live on their own or with you, Meyer says you can help them get the creative juices flowing.

“You don’t have to be a poet. You just have to ask open-ended questions and care about elevating a conversation,” she says.

After asking the typical questions about taking medication, eating and sleeping, Meyer suggests asking more engaging question like “What’s your favorite flower?”

“Maybe your parent says, ‘A yellow rose.’ Then you can ask, ‘Why yellow?’ All the sudden you have something to write down,” she says.

Another way to engage your loved one is to show them items from their home such as a quilt, picture, or piece of art. “Have them look at it, touch it and smell it, and ask what they think about when they do so, then start writing and read it back to them,” she says.

While this may be a change of a mindset for you, Meyer says, “try to get off the caregiver road and just be with your parent.”

If your loved one doesn’t want to participate, Meyer suggests telling them you want to hear more about them and how they feel, or try again another time.

“It’s okay if you only get a few lines the first time,” says Meyer. “The point is that you’re allowing them to engage in a way that gets them away from the day to day of living with dementia.”

 

7 Common Myths About Alzheimer’s Disease

It's time to dispel the myths about Alzheimer's disease.

It’s estimated that more than 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease. Learning that a loved one has Alzheimer’s can bring up countless questions. With a bombardment of information easily accessible online, it can be hard to know what’s true and what’s not. The following are some common myths surrounding the disease.

Myth 1: Alzheimer’s and Dementia Are One in the Same

Dementia is an umbrella term for progressive and disabling cognitive decline. Everybody with Alzheimer’s disease has dementia, but there are many different kinds of dementia. In fact, Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia, accounting for about 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

“Sometimes people are upset when they hear Alzheimer’s disease, and for some reason less upset when they’re told it’s dementia. Everybody with Alzheimer’s has dementia, and in fact, most older adults with dementia have Alzheimer’s,” said neurologist Riley McCarten, MD, medical director of the Geriatric Research, Education and Clinical Center at the Minneapolis VA Health Care System.

Gary Kennedy, MD, geriatric psychiatrist at the Montefiore Medical Center in Bronx, New York said to think of it this way: “Alzheimer’s is to dementia as leukemia is to cancer.”

Myth 2: Everyone Gets Alzheimer’s Eventually

While Alzheimer’s disease is an age-related illness, it’s not inevitable for everyone. “If you live well into your 80s or 90s, about half of the population has some signs of dementia, but there’s also half that don’t. Dementia is always caused by disease. It’s not healthy aging,” said McCarten.

Myth 3: Alzheimer’s Comes on Strong

Alzheimer’s often is associated with the image of an incompetent or impaired person. However, for most people with Alzheimer’s, this isn’t the case until they’ve had the disease for years. “Like lots of chronic diseases, whether it’s emphysema or cancer or heart disease, people can look good for a long time with Alzheimer’s. Dementia, specifically Alzheimer’s Disease, can last for a long time, on average 10 years, and sometimes twice that long, so for the first 90 percent of it, people may be up and around, quite active and engaged,” said McCarten.

Not recognizing people also happens much later in the disease. “I tell families that it’s not important if the patient calls wife ‘Mother’ or husband ‘Father’ or daughter ‘Son’. What’s important is that they’re expressing love and affection and recognize that this is a person they love,” said Kennedy.

Myth 4: I’ll Have Alzheimer’s Because My Dad Had it

While having a family history of Alzheimer’s increases your risk, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have the disease. Scientists have found certain genes related to the onset of the illness. When genes are to blame, it is referred to as “familial Alzheimer’s disease,” because family members across several generations are affected. In these cases, symptoms tend to develop at a young age, usually before 60. This form of Alzheimer’s is rare, accounting for less than 5 percent of cases, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

 “While there’s a lot of work that’s been done on identifying these genes, nothing has lead to the discovery of a medication that could modify the genetic risk,” said Kennedy.

Myth 5: Medication Can Cure Alzheimer’s

Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved several prescription medications to treat Alzheimer’s, the drugs are used to treat symptoms rather than cure the disease.

 “While we have medications that will help, we really don’t understand what’s causing Alzheimer’s yet,” said Kennedy. “For instance, for diabetes, we know where the problem starts so we can counter it with medications like insulin. For HIV/AIDS, we found the infectious agent and now we have medication that keeps it at bay. However, that’s not the case with Alzheimer’s disease. It’s much more complicated.”

Both Kennedy and McCarten agree that the best approach to treatment is making lifestyle changes that give the patient a sense of independence for as long as possible.

“The concept of treatment, unfortunately, is usually viewed as a pill or surgical intervention, but medications have a modest affect,” said McCarten. “A lot of intervention isn’t related to medication. Somebody who is living with dementia can have a much better life if the family intervenes and makes sure they’re not isolated, are eating well and getting exercise.”

Myth 6: It’s Always Hard to Care For Someone with Alzheimer’s

Of course Alzheimer’s has detrimental effects, but Kennedy said there are some people with Alzheimer’s who are easier to care for than expected. “Rather than depressed and aggressive, there are Alzheimer’s patients who are in elevated spirits and in a certain sense ‘easy’ to take care of,” he said. “Of course they don’t make it into the research studies because they’re not a ‘problem’ and they’re not seen by the psychologist or specialty neurologist because the family is managing well.”

Still, Kennedy points out that there is a need for better resources for families who struggle with difficult behaviors exhibited by their loved one with Alzheimer’s.

Myth 7: Alzheimer’s is on the Rise

According to Kennedy, the percentage of older adults who now develop dementia has declined, but because the older adult population is increasing worldwide, the prevalence of dementia will continue to swell.

“There’s an increasing awareness that vascular risk factors such as diabetes and heart disease make a contribution to Alzheimer’s. In other words, people who have the pathology of Alzheimer’s also have the pathology of vascular disease in their brains,” Kennedy said. “The reason that’s so important is that we’ve had pretty good luck for intervention for cardiovascular disease, whether it’s the cholesterol lowering agents, anti-hypertensives, or anti-diabetic agents.”

“They’re all having an impact on the frequency of stroke, brain hemorrhage and heart attack, which is most likely responsible for the reduced incidence of dementia in late life,” he said.

Kennedy advises that ensuring a loved one with Alzheimer’s is properly treated for other conditions, such as lung disease, heart disease and diabetes may help keep dementia at bay.