Coping with Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer’s is a disease that requires careful management and support—find out how carers and patients can control it

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, affecting approximately 850,000 people in the UK today. It is a neurodegenerative condition that usually starts slowly and progressively worsens over time. The precise causes of Alzheimer’s are still unknown; ongoing research is being carried out by charities and privately funded organisations on the topic. A paper by Ballard C. et al. in 2011 proposed that 70 percent of the risk factors are tied to genetics. While this hypothesis has merit, only further research and studies will be able to confirm it. 

Alzheimer’s sufferers experience atrophy, or shrinking of different parts of the brain including the hippocampus. This process negatively affects brain structure and function in these areas. Another similarity among Alzheimer’s patients is the presence of amyloid plaques (abnormal protein deposits in the brain) along with imbalances of a chemical called acetylcholine. There are currently no treatments that can stop or reverse the disease’s progression, however, there are some measures that can be taken to alleviate its symptoms. 

Signs and symptoms

Early symptoms of Alzheimer’s are often confused with natural signs of ageing such as forgetfulness, confusion, obsessive and repetitive behaviours and hesitation to make decisions. Behavioural changes—such as agitation and anxiety—are also characteristic of the disese. As Alzheimer’s advances, some symptoms may worsen and new ones may appear. 

Other symptoms can involve mood swings and depression along with disturbed sleep, delusions, hallucinations and trouble with performing spacial tasks. Sometimes, individuals with Alzheimer’s may become violent or suffer significant problems with speech. If this is the case, the individual will likely need a higher degree of care to help them cope. In extreme cases, patients will need full-time care to aid them in performing daily tasks and keep them safe. Depending on the severity of the condition, this responsibility and level of attention can put strain on family members who do not have the resources or medical skills to look after their relatives. Some families may decide to employ a qualified carer or may request the sufferer  stay in a care facility.

Managing Alzheimer’s: family and friends

While it can be upsetting to see a loved one suffer from a serious illness, your positivity will be hugely beneficial to their wellbeing. Follow Dear Doctor’s tips on managing Alzheimer’s from the perspective of family and friends:

Offer your support sensitively—try not to criticise what they do out of anger or confusion. This is one of the best ways to help.

You can employ memory aids around the house—this is especially helpful for those in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. Try to label things clearly and leave reminders for your dependent. 

Maintain their healthy diet. It is still extremely important to uphold their nutrition; try to encourage balanced meals and different forms of exercise. Try to involve them in their food preparation; this will alleviate any anxiety come mealtime. 

Suggest creative activities. This has a soothing effect and can pose as a good distraction.

Try to remove distractions and background noise when communicating or socialising—this may help their focus.

Give them plenty of time. Patience, in all manners of the word, is vital. They may take longer periods of time finding their words or understanding situations; your positive attitude can improve their feeling of security.

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