In 1983, President Ronald Reagan declared November as National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month to help Americans unite in the fight against this chronic brain condition that progressively affects thinking, memory and behavior.
Almost a decade after designating a month each year to encourage public responsiveness to Alzheimer’s, Reagan announced his own diagnosis with the life-altering cognitive disorder.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, an overall term that describes a group of symptoms associated with mental decline severe enough to reduce a person’s ability to perform everyday activities. Of the 5.4 million people in the United States with Alzheimer’s disease, most are age 65 and older.
Without breakthrough medical prevention and a cure, the number of older adults with Alzheimer’s is expected to almost triple to a staggering 13.8 million by 2050. By the middle of this century, it is projected that every 33 seconds, one more person in the United States will develop Alzheimer’s.
Alzheimer’s symptoms start with mild memory loss, and late-stage Alzheimer’s progresses to the inability to converse with others and respond to one’s surroundings. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, “Alzheimer’s is the only disease among the top 10 causes of death in America that cannot be prevented, cured or even slowed.”
While worldwide research advancements continue for better treatment and prevention of Alzheimer’s and other dementia, presently medications and brain health supplements are largely ineffective.
“Alzheimer’s disease eventually affects a person’s ability to dress, bath, eat and manage other everyday tasks,” said Erika Ackerman, owner of Right at Home of Warren and Sussex. “Many family caregivers are not prepared or trained for the specialized dementia care their loved one needs. With knowledgeable care assistance, however, people with Alzheimer’s can continue to live rewarding lives, and live in their own homes, for many years after diagnosis.”
Ackerman notes that two-thirds of family caregivers for Alzheimer’s patients are women and a third of all Alzheimer’s family caregivers are age 65 and older. In 2015, nearly 16 million family and friend caregivers provided an estimated 18.1 billion hours of unpaid care to loved ones with Alzheimer’s and other dementia.
Caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s can create a toll on family members’ physical health, emotional well-being and financial stability. Almost 60 percent of Alzheimer’s and dementia caregivers consider themselves as highly stressed emotionally.
Ackerman recommends the following tips to help ensure home caregiving is a life-enriching, positive experience for family members and their ill loved one. The caregiver should be aware of their own emotional challenges as their loved one mentally changes. As Alzheimer’s progresses, family caregivers face a jumble of sadness, fear and uncertainty. Recognizing the ups and downs of dementia caregiving is essential to sustained health for those extending care.
Rely regularly on a team of helpers. From medical professionals to home healthcare providers, Alzheimer’s caregivers benefit from enlisting the support of dementia-care resources.
A caregiver should safeguard their need for breaks. Planned respite care keeps the caregiver refreshed and ready to serve their loved one with greater patience and compassion.
Make use of Alzheimer’s home therapies including pets, visual and creative arts such as adult coloring, painting, drawing and aromatherapy.
Encouragea loved one to socialize by helping them participate in community, social and church events, since societal withdrawal increases the likelihood for depression in people with Alzheimer’s disease.
Focus on the individual and not the disease or disability. Extending dignity and improving the quality of life is important in assisting Alzheimer’s patients.
Learn to respond rather than react. Be attuned to a loved one’s emotional state and body language. Engage in the moment and listen with empathy. Simplify communication by rephrasing responses using an even tone and cadence. Use short, simple words and sentences, and ask questions one at a time.
Founded in 1995, Right at Home offers in-home companionship and personal care and assistance to seniors and disabled adults who want to continue to live independently. For more information on Right at Home, visit About Right at Home at https://www.rightathome.net/about-us.