By Daniel Hickey
With November being Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, this is the perfect time for us to address the early signs of Alzheimer’s, which are typically first noted by family members as well as loved ones of the person who exhibits them. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, there are 10 signs of Alzheimer’s and dementia to look for:
1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life. This includes forgetting recently learned information or important dates. Names and appointments may be forgotten, then remembered later.
2. Challenges in planning or solving problems. This often involves changes in the ability to develop and follow a plan (i.e., written instructions or a recipe), and difficulty working with numbers (i.e., keeping track of bills).
3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks. Maybe it becomes difficult to drive to a familiar place, or the rules of a favorite card game are completely forgotten. There may also be a noticeable decline in hygiene habits.
4. Confusion with time or place. People with Alzheimer’s may forget where they are, or be confused about the season of the year. Understanding the passage of time generally becomes more difficult.
5. Trouble with visual images and spatial relationships. This may manifest itself while reading, judging distance while driving or not recognizing one’s own reflection in a mirror.
6. New problems with words. Following and joining a conversation becomes more difficult, and repeating oneself becomes more common. An individual with early signs of Alzheimer’s may struggle to find the proper words to articulate themselves and may call things or people by the wrong name.
7. Misplacing objects. People with Alzheimer’s may put things in odd places, or lose objects and be unable to retrace their steps to find them. This is common with familiar possessions like eyewear, keys or a telephones.
8. Decreased or poor judgment. It is common for people with Alzheimer’s to lose their ability to use good judgment or make wise decisions. This makes them especially susceptible to those who would take advantage of their vulnerability (i.e., telemarketers and other salespeople).
9. Withdrawal. A person with Alzheimer’s may abandon hobbies or shun social activities, either intentionally or because of memory loss about the activity.
10. Changes in mood. For loved ones, this is one of the most difficult changes to witness. People with Alzheimer’s may exhibit very significant personality changes and show more frequent signs of confusion, depression, anxiety and suspicion.
When a person presents several of these signs concurrently, it may be time for family members to schedule an Alzheimer’s and dementia screening. Whether the diagnosis is dementia, which is the syndrome associated with a decline in memory, thinking and reasoning skills – or Alzheimer’s, which is the most common form of dementia – the symptoms are generally irreversible and will progress over time. But with proper intervention, the visible signs of both conditions can be managed in a way that is beneficial to the person experiencing them.
In some families, the intervention begins with at-home caregiving supplemented by regular visits to the patient’s physician. While this may be a suitable solution in the early stages of Alzheimer’s or dementia, but as time progresses and the need for 24-hour care becomes more apparent, the next option for long-term care is assisted living in a memory care facility.
A quality memory care facility will be staffed by professionals who skillfully and respectfully care for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients on both “good days” and “bad days.” Ideally, a memory care community will provide the patient with a secure, stimulating environment that encourages maintaining assisted independence for as long as possible. The best memory care facilities have the flexibility to cater to various levels of care, ranging from early memory loss to the final stages of Alzheimer’s. Preferably, a memory care facility should offer:
– Wellness programs that stimulate the senses
– Interventions designed to improve communication and mood Activities that encourage physical activity and social interaction
This may include daily group activities such as:
– Fitness classes
– Outings and excursions
– Music therapy Arts and crafts
– Reading, movies and slideshows
– Planned social gatherings
Another desirable characteristic of a memory care facility is an area that features stations for residents to mimic daily life activities and tasks from the past. Examples of these stations may include a:
– Library and movie theater
– Flower and vegetable garden
– Work bench with safe tools
Baby nursery with dolls
– Community pet area
– Bird aviary or fish aquarium
In addition to these amenities, the hallmarks of memory care communities include as-needed assisted living services such as housekeeping, laundry, bathing and dressing assistance, dietary guidance, escort services to offsite appointments and activities and appointment coordination. There should be a staff of licensed nurses who provide 24-hour medical assistance, and a physician who provides the residents’ scheduled checkups, along with specialist referrals as necessary.
When families first recognize the signs of Alzheimer’s or dementia in a loved one, that is the best time to begin researching memory care facility options. This will give them more time to find a safe, supportive memory care living environment in their local area.
Daniel Hickey is a regular contributor for IE Business Daily and posted this content after visiting a retirement community in Escondido.