September is World Alzheimer’s month. The theme for 2021 has been, “Know dementia, know Alzheimer’s.” It’s a great opportunity to learn more about dementia and about the terminology we use to define it.
Get ready to get smarter. Read on to find out more.
Dementia is a general term rather than a specific disease. We use it to describe a decreased ability to think, remember or make decisions. All this can interfere with being able to do all sorts of everyday activities.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia.
Even though older people are more prone to dementia, it is not part of normal aging. At least one report suggests that the number of people living with dementia in Ireland will more than double by 2050.
That’s in line with the country’s growing aged population. This means that those diagnosed with diseases related to dementia will increase from an estimated 55,000 to more than 140,000 people over the next 30 years.
Warning Signs of Old Age
Many older adults never develop dementia. Weaker muscles and bones along with the stiffening of arteries are normal signs of aging. Experiences and knowledge built up over a lifetime typically remain intact. But, it’s not uncommon for older people to:
- Lose car keys occasionally
- Struggle to think of a word but remember it later
- Forget the name of someone they’ve met before
Warning Signs of Dementia
Given that dementia is a general term, its symptoms can vary greatly in different people.
Those with dementia can have difficulties with:
- Their memory
- Giving something their full attention
- Reasoning, solving problems, and exercising judgement
- Their eyesight beyond normal age-related changes in vision
These are some common signs that may point to someone having dementia:
- Getting lost in places they’re familiar with
- Using odd words when referring to familiar objects
- Being unable to remember the name of a close friend or relative
- Forgetting memories from earlier in life
- Being unable to finish tasks independently
Age is the biggest driver of dementia with most cases affecting those aged 65 or older. Family history is also relevant. That’s because people who have parents with dementia are more likely to develop dementia themselves.
High levels of cholesterol, high blood pressure, head injuries, and smoking can also raise the risk of dementia.
Alzheimer’s disease is likely to account for over half of all cases of dementia. Doctors can recognise it because they’ll see a build-up of protein in the brain. This creates plaques and tangles that prevent the brain from working as it should.
Symptoms develop gradually over a period of years and get more severe. The first signs of Alzheimer’s can be very like those of normal aging. These could be things like having trouble remembering conversations, names, or places.
Typical Symptoms of Alzheimer’s
As time moves on, these kinds of memory problems can start getting more severe. Other symptoms that can develop include:
- General confusion
- Finding it hard to plan or to make a decision
- Difficulties moving around and performing self-care tasks
- Changes in personality such as being aggressive, demanding, or suspicious
- Experiencing hallucinations or believing untruths
- Feeling depressed and anxious
As with other types of dementia, Alzheimer’s is most prevalent in those over 65 and the risk increases greatly in those over 80. A significant percentage of people will start suffering from Alzheimer’s when they’re under 65. We refer to this as early-onset Alzheimer’s.
Because Alzheimer’s develops slowly, it can be hard to diagnose. The disease can sometimes also stop people from recognising changes in their ability to remember. That said, getting a diagnosis as early as possible is helpful.
That’s because it allows time to prepare for the future and to receive any available treatment and support. There is no single test for Alzheimer’s but a referral to a specialist may mean:
- A more detailed assessment of a person’s symptoms
- Brain scans
- The creation of a care and treatment plan
Treatment for Alzheimer’s
Although there’s no cure for Alzheimer’s disease at the moment, there is medication available that can help relieve some of its symptoms.
Psychological treatments including cognitive stimulation therapy may also be available. These can help to support the memory, problem-solving skills, and language abilities.
To help those with Alzheimer’s live independently, home care can be essential. It can, for example, help to make changes to the home environment. This can make it easier to move about and jog the memory about daily tasks.
Alzheimer’s is a life-limiting disease but many people who suffer from it will die from another cause. As a progressive neurological condition, it can create difficulties with swallowing. This can cause the inhalation of food into the lungs and then chest infections.
There’s growing awareness that those with Alzheimer’s disease are in need of palliative care. This includes support for families along with the person with Alzheimer’s.
Home Care and Support for Alzheimer’s
Caring for someone with any kind of dementia, including Alzheimer’s, can be extremely challenging. It takes its toll both emotionally and financially. There is support out there. This includes:
- Charities such as the Alzheimer Society of Ireland
- Online groups and daycare centres
- Carer’s Allowance and Carer’s Benefit
If you are caring for someone with dementia, you are not alone. It can help to connect with others who may be experiencing similar issues to yourself.
The highly skilled team of Healthcare Assistants at Comfort Keepers is also able to offer extra home care. This could even be to allow you to have a break for a coffee at a local café or to meet a friend for a catch-up.
Staying Fit and Healthy
We still don’t know the precise cause of Alzheimer’s disease. That means there’s no certain way to prevent the condition. A healthy lifestyle can help reduce the risk. It can also keep those caring for someone with dementia stronger.
If you, your family, or a loved one are struggling to come to terms with a dementia diagnosis or need care at home, get in touch with us now. Organise a free consultation by calling us on 01 892 1302 or email us using this link.