Alzheimer's introductionIf you or a loved one has recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, you probably have a lot of questions. This article is intended to address some of the most basic facts and get you started in the learning process. Alzheimer’s disease, which is the most common form of dementia, is a problem with the brain and affects a patient’s behavior, thought processes, and memory. The symptoms are fairly minor to start, and then gradually get worse to the point where they drastically affect the individual’s everyday life and they need other people to help them complete even basic functions. There are several million people in the US who have Alzheimer’s disease. It usually starts sometime after 65 years of age, and becomes more likely the older a person gets. Among those people older than 85, some estimate that half have Alzheimer’s. One of the first signs of Alzheimer’s disease is problems with thinking skills, especially memory, and behavior alterations. The person may be moody, restless, or confused. They may display uncharacteristically poor judgment or have trouble processing visual information. They may also experience difficulties communicating and using language. Alzheimer’s can be difficult to diagnose because its symptoms can easily seem like the normal effects of aging. The disease is frequently ignored in the early stages. How can you know the difference? When you see the doctor for a diagnosis, he or she will run a variety of tests designed to measure cognitive functioning and behavior. The only way anyone can know for sure that a person has Alzheimer’s, though, is to see if there is plaque in their brain tissue. This usually isn’t possible until after the patient has passed away and an autopsy is performed. The disease may take anywhere from around 5 to 20 years to run its course. Because it damages the brain, it can cause a person to have trouble with basic physical functions such as swallowing, which can in turn lead to death. Alzheimer’s patients are also more likely to get an infection. As of yet, no cure has been found for Alzheimer’s disease, but there are treatments available that can lessen some of the negative effects of the disease on patients and caregivers, as well as slow its progression. To learn more about this disease, see the articles below: How to Choose a Memory Care Facility When Your Parent Forgets Who You Are Three Big Questions to Consider After an Alzheimer’s Diagnosis
Old woman's hands tucked between her legs

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A dementia patient’s agitation is one aspect of the disease that can be distressing to family members. They may fuss and fidget or repeat certain phrases. They may scream out or ask the same question over and over again. For some family members, this is the aspect of the disease that inspires the most dread. This behavior may have a variety of causes. It may be that something in the person’s environment is bothering them. Or they may be trying to complete a task that is too complex for them. Or the behavior could simply be due to changes in brain chemistry. There are ways that families can address agitation and help the dementia patient become calmer. First, determine the root cause of the agitation. If it is something specific, such as a runny nose or a room that is too cold, you may want to simply address the problem if all it requires is a sweater or a tissue. Another technique to try is to remind your loved one of an activity they used to enjoy. For example, if your mother stayed at home to raise four children, you could give her a baby doll and get her to tell you stories about when you and your siblings were growing up. Or if your father used to pride himself on his garden, take him outside to look at the flowers or maybe even do a little pruning. He may no longer be capable of carrying out more advanced tasks he used to be able to do, but it’s likely he’ll take pleasure in re-learning simpler ones. Re-directing the patient’s attention on something they enjoy can have surprisingly powerful effects. Some professional caregivers have even found that this technique reduces the need for medication. Whatever you do, avoid confrontation and try to remain calm. The tone of your voice matters more than you think, so try not to let your frustration or annoyance show. Try to distract your loved one from whatever might be irritating them. Don’t try to rush your loved one along; let them move at their own pace. When deciding how to address a loved one’s agitation, be flexible and consider a variety of solutions, depending on the cause. There is no one magic way to address this behavior. Instead, try to find different solutions that work at different times, and consider them part of your toolbox of ways to respond to the disease.
Music has many benefits for Alzheimer's patients.We all respond to music on a very deep level, especially the music we remember from our childhood and teenage years. Some pieces cause an automatic, powerful flood of memories. It’s not hard to understand that music can be beneficial to Alzheimer’s patients. But what you may not know is just how pervasive these benefits are. Music can alleviate pain, improve sleep, ease anxiety, and boost one’s mood. Indeed, it can sometimes do more to stimulate healing than conventional medicine. Music has been demonstrated to release the feel-good chemical serotonin and decrease cortisol, which is associated with stress. How does this work for Alzheimer’s patients specifically? Seniors who are new to assisted living are in an unfamiliar place, and this change can result in negative psychological effects like aggression or aggitation. But a meaningful song takes them back to the familiar, and as a result they become more comfortable in the new environment and easier for caregivers to work with. The senior may be smiling, tapping their feet, or even swaying in place: their joy is palpable. Some experimenting with music and seniors have found that this technique can lessen or even eliminate the need for drugs that treat depression and anxiety – at a much lower price than the cost of these expensive treatments! Consider getting your loved one some sort of music player as a gift, so that they can listen to songs of their choice whenever they want to. Some have found dramatic effects when giving seniors iPods or other digital music players, but even a less cutting-edge CD player will do if it’s easier for your loved one to handle. Use upbeat music stimulate: to help motivate mom to move towards her bath, for example. Songs with slower tempos can be used to help your loved one calm down or fall asleep. Encourage movement and singing along to help increase the benefits. Before you know what songs they’ll enjoy, watch their reactions carefully. A song that is beautiful to one person may evoke feelings of sadness in another, for example. Stay away from music that has commercials, such as that played over the radio or by a streaming service such as Pandora. These interruptions can confuse Alzheimer’s patients. Also make sure that there aren’t too many other distracting noises in the room, and don’t turn the volume up too loud. Bringing music into your loved one’s world may seem like a small change, but it’s likely to make their life dramatically better.
Dementia patients often make accusations.One of the most difficult dementia behaviors for caregivers to cope with is false accusations. We’ve all had the experience of losing track of something, thinking someone must have taken it, and then later finding the object and discovering we were mistaken. Dementia patients, with their short-term memory problems and tendency towards paranoia, are all the more prone to these kind of misunderstandings. Because so much of their world no longer makes sense, they have a need to explain things and are unable to accept that the strange occurrence may be due to their own actions or perceptions. Is mom’s favorite sweater missing? Horrifying as it may sound, to her the most likely explanation may be that you stole it! They are also grappling with the insecurity that comes with old age, so the “lie” may be an unconscious attempt to preserve their dignity. Dad can avoid the embarrassment of misplacing his watch if he believes the aide stole it. Mistreatment and abuse of elders certainly does happen. But perhaps more often, the wrong exists only in the senior’s mind. What’s tragic is that these accusations are often leveled at loved ones and caregivers who are trying hard to make sure the senior is safe and comfortable. How can you cope with this difficult situation? Here are some suggestions. Bring in someone to help you. Find a third person to help you explain yourself. It may be a friend of your loved one’s, a staff member at the assisted living facility, or another family member. Seeing that someone else will back you up may help your loved one realize that they’re placing blame where it doesn’t belong. Seek advice from a senior care counselor. An expert in senior care can teach you good ways to respond to your loved one. You may want to start with the Alzheimer’s Association’s 24/7 Helpline at (800) 272-3900. Keep good financial records. Accusations often have to do with money. Being able to show documentation that proves what’s going on with a senior’s finances can help straighten things out. Bring a family mediator on board. Sometimes within families there can be confusion about what to believe. A mediator can help everyone sort through the issue as calmly as possible. Consult an elder care lawyer. This is only for extreme situations, but especially with accusations of abuse or major financial wrongdoing you may need to take serious measures to protect yourself. Before you take any major action to address the problem, remember that your loved one may forget about it the next day and display no ill will towards you. In the strange world of dementia, sometimes what seems like a serious problem will simply evaporate. And always remember that such behaviors are caused by the disease, and often mean nothing about how caring or devoted you’ve been.
Free memory care ebookAre you searching for a memory care facility for your loved one, but aren’t sure where to start? Our new complimentary ebook, How to Choose a Memory Care Facility for Your Loved One, is a thorough resource that tells you everything you need to consider when making this important decision. Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are challenging conditions, both for patients and for their families. There comes a point when the care mom or dad needs goes beyond what adult children can provide on their own. It’s at this stage that families begin to seek out a place where their loved one can not only have their care needs met, but hopefully thrive as well. This guide covers the following:
  • What to look for regarding a facility’s environment, safety, staffing, quality of care, and policies.
  • A checklist of important details that can help you distinguish high-quality care homes from the rest.
  • How to identify signs that a facility has serious underlying problems.
  • Types of facilities that have dedicated staff and highly personalized care.
  • Important considerations when evaluating the cost of memory care.
This ebook is a free resource provided courtesy of Raya’s Paradise. We encourage you to share it with anyone you know who is looking for a memory care facility for a loved one. Click here to access the book in PDF format. For the best quality, we recommend that you download the file to your computer, rather than reading it in your browser.  
Simple movements are all it takes for late dementia paitents to get exercise.Those in the later stages of dementia may have lost much of their former mobility, but that doesn’t mean that they can no longer exercise, or that it isn’t beneficial to do so. As discussed in an earlier post, dementia patients can slow the progress of the disease by working some activity into their daily routine. We’re not talking jogging and playing volleyball, but rather simply moving and experiencing some physical challenge. Here are a few exercises that those in the later stages of dementia should be able to complete:
  • Encourage your loved one to stand up and move around as much as possible. This will maintain strength in the legs and help with balance.
  • Have your loved one lie flat on the bed for up to a half hour. This will give the neck a break and help him or her stretch out.
  • Help your loved one sit without support. They should not try this out when they’re alone, as there’s a chance they may fall. This will aid the muscles in the stomach and the back that support posture.
  • Your loved one can also stand and balance. If they need to hold onto something for support, they’ll still get some benefit. They can even try this any time they have to stand for a few minutes, such as in the shower.
  • Have your loved one sit on one end of the bed, and then scoot to the other end while sitting. This exercise is good practice for getting up from a chair.
In general, encourage as much movement as possible. The key is to push oneself just a bit to help slow decline. Of course, pushing too far will result in your loved one getting hurt, but not moving at all and always staying comfortable isn’t great either. Be sure to observe your loved one carefully for signs that they’re over-exerting themsevles. When starting an exercise routine like this with your loved one, go slow. Try to just add one thing each day, rather than dramatically changing their routine. Just like younger exercisers, trying too much at once will just lead to an injury or dropping the whole thing. The most sustainable change is gradual, and this is all the more true for dementia patients, who get anxious with change. Also remember that completing exercises perfectly is not the goal: simply moving is. Be encouraging even if your loved one is having trouble. It may be that what they can’t do today, they’ll be able to do tomorrow. As always, speak to your loved one’s doctor about how much movement they can handle.
Physical exercise is beneficial for seniorsWe know that exercise is important, but sometimes we forget that that applies to seniors too. Getting some form of exercise can increase the quality of life for dementia patients and keep them healthier. One study even found that seniors who exercise pay less in medical bills! Of course, high-impact aerobics or a Muscle Beach strength routine wouldn’t be appropriate for most seniors. But there are plenty of exercises that they can do. Below are some suggestions for those in the earlier stages of dementia. Our next post will offer exercise suggestions for those in later stages. Walking Walking is perhaps the most basic exercise of all. To get started, all you need is your own two feet. It’s easy to design a walking routine to fit what that particular person is capable of: they may take a walk around the neighborhood or simply down the hall and back. Two friends can even go for a walk together to combine physical exercise with socialization benefits. Tai Chi Tai Chi is a slow and graceful form of Chinese martial arts that’s been shown to reduce stress and improve balance and stability. It can be thought of as a form of moving meditation, more gentle and relaxed than yoga. Its movements are perfect for seniors due to the activity’s easy, gentle pace. Swimming Many seniors enjoy swimming, finding it to be a relaxing activity in which movement is less jarring to the joints. If your loved one enjoys the water, this could be the perfect activity for them. Keep in mind that seniors with dementia should be supervised while swimming. Dancing You don’t need to be fast and build up a sweat to be dancing. You can even dance while sitting down! For seniors, swaying back and forth can be beneficial. The music and the fact that dancing is usually done with others adds social and emotional advantages to this activity. Gardening Even if your loved one wasn’t a gardener earlier in life, they can still take up this pastime now. Simple activities like weeding or watering don’t require a green thumb or prize-winning expertise. This activity provides the sensory benefits of the colors, smells, and textures, and also allows seniors to take meaning from the effort involved in making something grow. There’s a certain satisfaction in achieving results, no matter how simple. Seniors should get the same amount of exercise as the rest of us: 30 minutes for five days per week. This may sound like a lot, but keep in mind all 30 minutes don’t need to be done at once. Be sure to consult with your doctor before beginning any exercise routine.
Photos can help Alzheimer's patients remember loved ones.On your last visit, Mom seemed kind of down so you’re determined to cheer her up today. You open the door to her room. She looks up with a smile that reminds you of the days you’d run home from school with a 100 on your spelling test. She rises and gives you a big hug. “Ella, I am so glad to see you. I was beginning to think you’d forgotten all about me.” She’s showing more enthusiasm than she has in weeks. So why is your stomach in free fall, and your heart pounding to beat the band? It’s because your name is Barbara. Ella is Mom’s older sister who died four years ago. What do you do? You want to keep her spirits up, but you don’t feel it’s right to play along. Mistaking children for siblings or other loved ones is not uncommon in Alzheimer’s patients. Alzheimer’s patients lose short term memory but not their recall of the past. You look after her interests. You make sure everything’s going well. You’re her protector, just like big sister Ella used to be. Seeing you may have caused a cross wire. When Mom recalls her long ago, it’s like she’s living in a dream. Now you’re here but the dream remains. She’s made you a part of it. You want to wake her up, but gently. There are several things you can do. But first and foremost, do not take offense. Think of her misrecognition as a compliment. She’s connecting you with someone she loves. Secondly, do not argue with her. Don’t make her see. Help her see. Listen to her, let her say what she has to say, then try to re-direct her focus. Switch the topic. A change of scenery may help. Suggest going for a walk. Address her by name – Mom. Hearing that one word may be all it takes, but it may not always work. It’s in both of your interests to try to prevent this from happening again. Here’s a suggestion you may want to try. This may even be fun – for both of you. First, gather up all the old photos you have at home. Scour the basement or the attic. What you want is a time line of Mom’s life: as a young mom, with you and all your siblings, and on through all the stages of the family’s life If you’re lucky you can extend it even further back, with photos of Mom when she was a child – with Aunt Ella. This may keep her in the present and if nothing else, will be an emotional bonding experience for you both. Next, gather some present time photos. You, Mom, your siblings, the grandkids, if they visit. That’s all you need. You don’t want to confuse her or you’ll be back where you began. Bring some cute labels. Make it a project. Label each photo, and create a timeline from past to present. This may help to trigger mom’s memory about who you are, by connecting an image of you from the past with what you look like now. Hang the timeline in a prominent place in her room. Finally, you don’t want to go down this path again, so next time you visit, identify yourself – face to face. “Hi Mom! It’s your daughter Barbara.” If mom has a favorite nickname for you, refer to yourself that way. If you can keep her in the present, there’s no need to bring her back.  
dementia decline goes through seven stages

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If you have a loved one who has dementia, what can you expect as the disease progresses? The stages below can give you some idea. Each individual’s experience is a little different, but this outline can give you a sense of what the future holds. Stage One During Stage One, no symptoms are present. Even a doctor would not be able to immediately tell that the person has dementia, and the person themselves doesn’t notice anything wrong. Stage Two Stage Two brings some mild changes in cognition. During this stage, it’s hard to tell whether memory problems are the beginnings of dementia or just changes that take place with normal aging. The person will forget words and names and also lose things. Stage Three Now other people besides the senior begin to notice that there’s a problem. The person will lose valuable objects, forget what they’ve just been told, and start to have trouble at work or in their social life. They may get lost on the way to a familiar place. Stage Four At this point, it’s time for medical attention. The person becomes more and more forgetful, even to the point of forgetting parts of their life story and people they know. More difficult mental math problems are now out of reach, and their ability to concentrate decreases. Their personality also begins to change as they withdraw from others and are moody. Stage Five In Stage Five, others will clearly be able to determine that a person has dementia, and the individual will start to depend on caregivers for help. They’ll forget information that they need from day to day, like the names of family members. The person might dress inappropriately and be confused about what happened when. Stage Six Caregivers and other loved ones will find this stage to be the most challenging. Some patients will have trouble sleeping or will wander. They are also likely to need help using the bathroom or getting dressed. They’ll experience delusions, become anxious and obsessive, and forget even information as important as the name of their spouse. Stage Seven Finally, the senior will need help even with very basic tasks. They’ll have great difficulty speaking and expressing their emotions. They’ll also need assistance almost constantly, to do even simple tasks like eating. Walking may be impossible. It’s not easy to watch a loved one decline, but knowing what to expect can make it a little bit easier. Our articles for caregivers can provide you with ideas for how to make this time happier and more comfortable for your senior, as well as how to best take care of yourself.
Plan for a future with Alzheimer's sooner rather than later.Learning that your loved one has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s will bring a flood of worries and emotions. You’ll feel shock, grief, fear, and anger. You’ll wonder how you can help them and what changes will take place, both for them and for you. This will be a difficult time. In the midst of this whirlwind, though, know that there are decisions to be made, and it’s better to tackle them now rather than put them off. The earlier you do so, the easier it will be for everyone, and the more chance you have of making sure your loved one is involved in the process. 1. Who will take care of your loved one’s finances and medical decisions when they can no longer act on their own behalf? This is never an easy conversation, but it’s an essential one for all adult children to have with their parents. Hopefully, you’ll be able to discuss this while your parent is still competent enough to make arrangements, and you can get their wishes in writing. An attorney who specializes in elder issues can be a helpful guide, and the Alzheimer’s Association also provides a number of useful resources. 2. Who will care for your loved one? Don’t assume that a particular person, whether it’s your parent’s spouse or your sister who lives five miles from your parent, will be the one to take on the primary caregiving responsibilities. No one wants such a large commitment foisted upon them. Remember that someone with Alzheimer’s eventually will require constant care, and that may not be something that anyone in your family is able to provide. Those closest to the patient should meet to discuss expectations and the feasibility of different possible situations. 3. Where will your loved one call home? Most seniors will want to stay in their own home as long as possible, but at some point it’s likely that this living arrangement will no longer be viable. Think about how easy their current residence will be for them to navigate as the disease progresses and as they continue to age. Consider both having your parent move to be closer to family and choosing an assisted living facility or board and care home. It may seem next to impossible to tackle these big decisions during such an emotional time. But you’ll be glad later that you’ve moved forward on taking charge of the situation. You can’t control the diagnosis, but you can influence how you and your family begin to move ahead.