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Alzheimer’s Awareness: Symptoms to Watch For and How to Respond
Alzheimer’s disease is a devastating illness that affects millions of people worldwide. Caused by the buildup of sticky protein plaques and twisted fibers in the brain, Alzheimer’s is characterized by memory loss and cognitive decline. But what does that mean and what does it look like?
Symptoms vary from person to person and may be easily dismissed or attributed to other causes. Early detection and intervention can make a significant difference in slowing down the progression of Alzheimer’s, and understanding these symptoms can be the key to getting timely care. In this blog post, Emily Eckhardt, MA, CCC-SLP, CDP, and member of EmpowerMe Wellness’ Clinical Education and Enrichment team, shares symptoms to look out for and support options for those who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
What to Watch For: Alzheimer’s Signs and Symptoms
Alzheimer’s is characterized by “memory loss and cognitive decline,” which can mean a variety of things and look different person to person. Early Alzheimer’s symptoms can manifest in a number of ways, including:
- Difficulty completing familiar tasks
- Challenges managing finances or medication
- Short-term memory loss
- Reduced ability to plan or solve problems
- Impaired orientation / getting lost in familiar places
- Difficulty with language and communication
- Changes in mood and personality
- Misplacing items or inability to retrace steps
- Diminished judgment or decision-making skills
- Difficulty with spatial orientation and navigation
- Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
- Hallucinations, delusions, or paranoia.
The most commonly recognized symptom of Alzheimer’s is memory loss. However, the disease can also lead to changes in mood and behavior, as well as difficulties with language, thinking, and problem-solving. In the disease’s late stages, individuals with Alzheimer’s may require round-the-clock care.
For more information, check out our post “Is it Dementia? What to Look for and When to Talk to Your Primary Care Provider”
How to Respond: Alzheimer’s Treatment and Therapy Options
While Alzheimer’s disease is chronic, medications and therapies can alleviate symptoms and slow the progression of the disease.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved medications for Alzheimer’s. These fall into two categories: drugs that temporarily ease some symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and drugs that change disease progression in people living with Alzheimer’s. When thinking about any treatment, it is important to have a conversation with a healthcare professional to determine which is appropriate. For more information about navigating treatment options and to learn more about the approved medications, go to alz.org.
Skilled therapy, specifically physical, occupational, and speech therapy, for residents with any diagnosis of dementia is crucial to maximize resident safety at their present level of functioning. Without skilled services, a resident can be at an increased risk for falls, isolation, and inability to express wants and needs effectively. Rather than relying on caregivers for resident daily needs, physical, occupational, and speech therapy for residents with a progressive cognitive decline can focus on highlighting current abilities and maintaining skills for as long as possible.
Alzheimer’s can cause new daily challenges based on the individual’s level of understanding and speed of processing information. Loved ones can provide support through relationships, activities, and creating a supportive environment.
“Adults with cognitive impairment should be accepted as they are and recognized for what they can still enjoy” explains Eckhardt. “We must continue to respect them as a person and help support their ongoing purpose in life. They may not remember what you say, but there are still ways to establish meaning and connect.”
While Alzheimer’s may change how an individual is able to communicate, with knowledge and creativity, loved ones can continue to engage relationally. Maintaining relationships and connection encourages both physical and mental health, which is particularly important as depression is often associated with dementia.
Routine games such as word searches, Sudoku, playing cards, and jigsaw puzzles, and personal hobbies can stimulate the brain. Providing opportunities to play and engage through games and activities can be a valuable role for loved ones.
Loved ones can also facilitate a supportive, adaptive environment for the individual by addressing potential areas of concerns. There are auditory aids available to record an important message that can be replayed as a calming reminder at the touch of a single button. Visual aids, such as large digital clocks/calendars that update automatically, can help reorient to date and time. These tools can also provide alarms for daily reminders to take medications, drink water, eat a meal, or initiate another daily routine.
“Adults with cognitive impairment should be accepted as they are and recognized for what they can still enjoy”
When to Talk to a Medical Provider
If you are concerned about yourself or a loved one, schedule an appointment to speak with a medical provider. A primary care provider will discuss your risk factors, provide referrals, and discuss treatment options with you.
As the population ages, the prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease is expected to increase dramatically. Therefore, continued research into the disease’s causes, prevention, and treatment is essential. Moreover, it is important to provide appropriate care and support for individuals and families affected by the disease. By working together, we can help to reduce the impact that Alzheimer’s has on society.
- Is it Dementia? What to Look for and When to Talk to Your Primary Care Provider
- 6 Brain Exercises to Boost Memory