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Understanding Alzheimer’s Disease and Its Effects

Senior woman embracing parent with Alzheimer's disease

When Alzheimer’s disease affects someone you care about, questions and uncertainty can loom. Even if you understand the basics – that Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive brain disorder affecting memory and the ability to think clearly – you’ll also want answers to common questions so you can respond effectively to your loved one’s diagnosis and give them the best possible support.

How Does Alzheimer’s Affect the Brain?

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, a group of conditions that slowly disrupt the communication center of the brain, leading to debilitating mental decline. The parts of the brain that control memory and thinking skills are first affected. As the disease progresses, different regions of the brain lose cells, resulting in changes in behavior and personality. Symptoms of the progression of Alzheimer’s – and of many other forms of dementia –  may include:

  • Increasing forgetfulness. Everyone forgets a name occasionally or misplaces the car keys, but with dementia, one of the early symptoms is forgetting newly learned information. People with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia may repeat themselves or forget conversations and appointments. It’s also common to leave items in unusual places, like the remote control in the bathroom or reading glasses in the refrigerator.
  • Problems with language. It can be difficult for someone with Alzheimer’s to express themselves verbally. They may replace forgotten words with unexpected alternatives. Reading and writing may also be affected.
  • Disorientation. People with dementia can lose their sense of dates, time, and place – the details that ground them in daily reality – resulting in confusion and making it easy for them to get lost in once-familiar surroundings.
  • Personality changes. After a dementia diagnosis, your loved one may be frustrated, depressed or anxious. As the condition progresses, suspicion, confusion, withdrawal, anger and agitation may arise.

How Best to Support a Person with Dementia

One of the most important things you can do to support your loved one is to ensure they have regular appointments with their doctor. Although there’s no cure for most types of dementia, a doctor can help guide your response and ensure that your loved one receives appropriate support and medication.

In addition, your loved one will likely need supervision and caregiving. Approaches to caregiving can vary, but in general the following tips may be helpful:

  • Acknowledge independence. Notice what your family member is able to do and suggest tasks you know they can manage. They’ll benefit from a feeling of competence and self-sufficiency.
  • Challenge stereotypes. Alzheimer’s disease carries a stigma that can make both you and your loved one self-conscious or lead to social isolation. Friends and family members may withdraw, unsure of how to be supportive. To counteract the misconceptions and stigma, it’s important to communicate honestly with friends and family about how they can help. Finding a support group can also help you feel more connected, provide emotional support, and help you challenge the stigma associated with Alzheimer’s.
  • Take safety precautions. Your loved one’s behavioral changes and lack of judgment may put them in danger. Evaluate your environment and notice potential hazards, such as medications and household cleaning supplies being stored in unlocked cabinets. Here’s a list of additional safety measures from the Alzheimer’s Association.
  • Foster communication. As language skills deteriorate, communication can become difficult. But it’s important to encourage your loved one to express themselves. One-on-one conversation in a quiet setting, speaking slowly, and being patient while you wait for a response can be helpful in keeping open the lines of communication.

What Resources Are Available?

As you and your loved one navigate the next steps, you may benefit by gathering a list of resources where you can find the support you need. In addition to consulting your loved one’s doctor, you should know the Alzheimer’s Association has a wealth of information on their website, including a 24/7 helpline. You can also look for residential communities where your loved one can receive around-the-clock support in a safe, comfortable environment.If you have questions about senior living in Dallas, Texas, contact Autumn Leaves. Our senior living community includes independent living, assisted living, rehabilitation and skilled nursing care. We can also help you locate Alzheimer’s and dementia care resources in the Dallas area.