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A Look at Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia

By January 27, 2015June 30th, 2016Moments

What is Alzheimer’s disease?

January is Alzheimer’s Awareness month, making it a great time to learn more about how Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia affect people and what to do if you or someone you know are experiencing symptoms. Finding out that you or a loved one has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease can be an emotional experience. It can be difficult to know what to expect and frustrating to feel like you have little control over what is happening.

However, while there is unfortunately no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, there are things that can help slow the progression and make coping with the disease easier. But first, what is Alzheimer’s and who does it affect?

What is the difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia? Who does it affect?

Dementia is the umbrella term for a set of cognitive symptoms brought on by brain disorders, with Alzheimer’s being the most common form of dementia.  Some of the early signs of dementia include:

  • Forgetfulness, especially with recent memories
  • Disorientation in familiar places
  • Difficulty forming sentences and finding the correct words
  • Mood and personality changes
  • Problems with judgement

A full list of the 10 signs of dementia can be found here.

According to the Alzheimer’s Society of Canada, 72% of Canadians with Alzheimer’s disease are women. Keith, whose wife was diagnosed with early onset dementia, says that his wife was the first one to notice something was wrong.

“We were on holidays and she spotted a building and couldn’t remember the name of it and it was one of the lighthouses along the coast,” says Keith. “We didn’t think much of it at the time because it’s not a building you’d see every day.”

Over time, she also started to have trouble remembering the names of everyday items like fruits and vegetables, which convinced them it was time to go to the doctor.

“I guess we were kind of shocked because she was so young,” says Keith.

Although we tend to think of Alzheimer’s disease as only affecting seniors, it can affect younger people as well. If you think that you or a family member may be showing any warning signs of dementia, talk to your doctor as soon as possible. Once a diagnosis of dementia has been made, your doctor can design a treatment plan that works for your lifestyle.

Living with Alzheimer’s and dementia

If you or a family member has been diagnosed with dementia, there are a number of different treatment options available to make living with dementia easier. Learning about the different treatment options can help you figure out which one works best for you. Although there is no cure, finding the right combination of treatments and support options for you can make everyday life easier.

Medical treatment options

Although there is research being done there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s. There are several different medical options available to treat symptoms; talk to your doctor to determine which treatment option is best for you. To learn more about the medical treatments currently being used to treat Alzheimer’s, click here.

Music Therapy

One treatment option for Alzheimer’s that’s been getting a lot of attention recently is music therapy. Most of us can think of songs that we associate with different memories from our past, and often just hearing a familiar song can cause us to feel nostalgic about old times.

Music therapy takes this feeling a step further, using music therapeutically to help people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia recall memories from their past and cope with feelings of irritation. Music therapy can help people with Alzheimer’s connect with their loved ones and find peace in what can be a very isolating situation.

Activities for people with dementia

Remaining active and connected with family and friends is important for everyone living with dementia, whether they are in the early stages of the disease or are more advanced. Some activity ideas for people living with dementia are:

  • Arts and crafts, such as drawing, knitting, painting or sculpting with clay
  • Board games and puzzles
  • Outdoor activities like gardening or taking leisurely walks
  • Doing simple chores around the house
  • Enjoying familiar movies, television and music
  • Stimulating the sense of touch by feeling objects with different textures, such as different types of fabric
  • Spending time playing with pets or watching fish swim in a fish tank
  • Organizing items such as socks, buttons or coins

Although some activities may become more difficult as the disease progresses, finding ways to socialize and enjoy time with loved ones is essential for people living with dementia.

Caring for people with dementia

One of the biggest challenges for the families of people with dementia can be trying to provide the best care possible for their loved one while also trying to maintain balance in their own lives. Hiring a home health care agency can help ensure that your loved ones’ needs are taken care of so that your family can spend quality time together and live in the moments that matter. For Keith, having help caring for his wife has helped take some stress off of him so he doesn’t have to do everything by himself.

“It just freed up some time for me to do some household chores and banking, just getting to catch your breath,” he says.

Keith also found that attending a support group helped him cope with his wife’s diagnosis.

“There’s probably someone who’s experienced something similar to you… it gives you a chance to meet with people from all differing perspectives.”

If caring for someone with Alzheimer’s has become overwhelming, in-home health care can help.

“In-home health care allows people to stay independent and live in the moments that matter to them,” says Andrea Warren, Executive Leader at Classic LifeCare.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you’re feeling overwhelmed. Reaching out to others can help you find new strategies for coping and form a stronger network of support.

Moving forward together

Receiving an Alzheimer’s or dementia diagnosis can be life-changing. But the earlier a diagnosis is made, the sooner you can start exploring treatment options. If you are concerned that you or a family member may be experiencing symptoms of Alzheimer’s, talk to your doctor as soon as possible. Music therapy, medication, home health care and support groups can all be helpful resources.

The most important thing is not to be afraid to reach out and ask for help. Take advantage of the treatment and support options that work best for you so you can live in the moments that matter.

Resources

Alzheimer’s Society of Canada

Alzheimer’s Society of British Columbia

Music and Memory

Dementia Today