Frequently Asked Questions
10 Warning Signs of Alzheimer's
- Memory loss that affects job skills It's normal to occasionally forget an assignment, deadline or a colleague's name, but frequent forgetfulness or inexplicable confusion at home or in the workplace may signal that something's wrong.
- Difficulty performing familiar tasks Busy people can get distracted from time to time. For example, a person might leave something on the stove too long or not remember to serve part of a meal. People with Alzheimer's might prepare a meal and not only forget to serve it but also forget they made it.
- Problems with language Everyone has trouble finding the right word sometimes, but people with Alzheimer's may forget simple words or substitute inappropriate words, making their sentences incomprehensible.
- Disorientation to time and place It's normal to forget the day of the week or what you need from the store. But people with Alzheimer's can become lost on their own street, not knowing where they are.
- Poor or decreased judgment Choosing not to bring a sweater or coat along on a chilly night is a common mistake. A person with Alzheimer's, however, may dress inappropriately in more noticeable ways, wearing a bathrobe to the store or several blouses on a hot day.
- Problems with abstract thinking Balancing a checkbook can be challenging for many people, but for someone with Alzheimer's, recognizing numbers or performing basic calculations may be impossible.
- Misplacing things Everyone temporarily misplaces a wallet or keys from time to time. A person with Alzheimer's disease may put these and other items in inappropriate places, such as an iron in a freezer or a wristwatch in the sugar bowl, then not recall how they got there.
- Changes in mood or behavior Everyone experiences a broad range or emotions; it's part of being human. People with Alzheimer's tend to exhibit more rapid mood swings for no appropriate reason.
- Changes in personality People's personalities may change somewhat as they age. But a person with Alzheimer's can change dramatically, either suddenly or over a period of time. Someone who is generally easygoing may become angry, suspicious, or fearful.
- Loss of initiative It's normal to tire of housework, business activities or social obligations, but most people retain or eventually regained their interest. People with Alzheimer's disease may remain uninterested and uninvolved.
Mom was just diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease. What is Alzheimer's Disease?
Alzheimer's Disease is an irreversible progressive, degenerative brain disease that occurs gradually and results in memory loss, thinking and reasoning. Changes in mood and behavior may also occur. There are approximately 4,500,000 Americans with the disease.
Isn't forgetfulness just a normal part of getting old?
Healthy people of any age may forget a person's name or forget why they went into the kitchen, but these episodes of forgetfulness are infrequent, do not get worse over time and often are remembered later. Some memory loss is normal as we age. When the memory loss begins interfering with daily life it is time to seek the help of a physician
What are the symptoms of Alzheimer's Disease?
Besides a gradual memory loss, there is a decline in the ability to perform routine tasks. A person begins to forget basic information about themselves and their family members. They can't remember things they used to do every day or protect themselves from common dangers. They become disoriented to time and place, and their judgment is impaired. Personality changes are common, and there is a loss of language and communication skills. Finally, people with Alzheimer's disease gradually forget how to perform basic activities, such as how to eat, dress and toilet themselves.
I thought I'd heard there's no way to diagnose Alzheimer's until you die?
A diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease obtained through a complete medical examination is considered about 90 percent accurate. The diagnostic process involves obtaining a medical history, physical exam, neurological exam, laboratory tests, and psychiatric and psychological evaluations.
What causes Alzheimer's Disease?
In normal aging there is some brain shrinkage. However, in Alzheimer's disease the brain shrinkage is greater. The brain nerve cells stop functioning, loose connections with other nerve cells and die. Researchers believe a number of different factors interact to cause Alzheimer's disease.
What's the cure for Alzheimer's Disease?
While AD cannot be cured, we can treat many of the symptoms. Advances in research and in our understanding of AD are helping to treat memory loss, confusion and other abnormal behaviors that are part of Alzheimer's. Currently four medications have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration: Cognex, Aricept, Exelon and Reminyl. They work best with people in the early to middle stages. They do not cure the disease, but some improvements in memory, attention, language and ability to perform simple tasks may occur. Symptoms such as clinical depression, agitation, anxiety and sleep disturbances often respond well to other medications. Currently, there is no known way to predict if the impaired person will benefit from these medications. It is important to consult with your physician about the potential risks, benefits and costs associated with the use of any medication. Changes in the environment and caregiver behaviors also affect Alzheimer's symptoms.
Does that mean Alzheimer's always results in death?
People who develop Alzheimer's can live from 2 to 20 years with the disease, but Alzheimer's disease is a terminal illness. Due to the deterioration in the brain and body, a person becomes more susceptible to various complications, such as infection, that can cause death. While infection may be the immediate cause of death, the underlying cause is the deterioration brought about by Alzheimer's.
If there's no real cure, why should I go to a doctor for a diagnosis and treatment?
Diagnosis is important because dementia may also be caused by several other factors including poor nutrition, brain tumors, head injuries, infections, drug reactions or interactions, and thyroid problems. These dementia's may be treated, and halted or reversed. Many elderly people, experiencing major life changes and losses, are also affected by severe depression and often exhibit symptoms of dementia. With proper treatment, depression is highly treatable.
If the diagnosis is Alzheimer's disease there are medical, legal and financial planning that should be initiated.
Why does Mom want me to do everything for her?
It is impossible to know exactly how much someone with Alzheimer's actually understands, and even this may vary from moment to moment. People with dementia simply forget how to eat, dress, bathe and toilet themselves, and even how to walk, talk and understand. As frustrating as this is for both of you, she needs a lot of support and assistance. Patiently demonstrating the steps of the task and allowing her to imitate one step at a time may help. Doing the same task at the same time may serve as a model for her.
Mom frequently gets lost in the community and even drove to another city by mistake. What can I do?
Enroll the person with dementia in the Safe Return program. It is a nationwide identification, support and registration program working at the community level. Safe Return provides assistance whether a person becomes lost locally or far from home. Assistance is available 24 hours, every day, whenever a person is lost or found. Your local Alzheimer's Association chapter can provide further information on this program.
Will I have to put Mom in a nursing home?
The decision to place a loved one in a nursing home or dementia special care unit is always difficult. There is no perfectly "right" time as the timing depends upon the needs of the impaired person and the ability of the caregiver to meet those needs. There are other considerations, too, such as the amount of financial resources that are available, or whether there are adequate community resources to assist in home care. Before moving mom into a nursing home, be sure you have explored all your local resources. Two ways to do this are through the Alzheimer's Associations or the Area Agencies on Aging.
Another suggestion that is beneficial to many caregivers of people with Alzheimer's is to attend a support group. Knowing there are others dealing with the same problems and the stress of caregiving, can help tremendously. It also provides an avenue to share information and resources in your community. Contact your local Alzheimer's Association or the Kansas Department on Aging for a listing of support groups.
What is a Dementia Special Care Unit?
Dementia special care units are nursing homes, or units or wings of nursing homes, that have been structured to meet the needs of persons with dementia related disorders. They may provide a specially designed environment to reduce stress and confusion and offer safety and security, as well as having therapeutic activities and specially trained staff members. The level and types of care can vary greatly in special care units, though, because of Kansas' very broad regulations for these units, so you will want to ask questions to identify the unit that best fits your needs. The Kansas Department on Aging does have a listing of all the Special Care Units in Kansas.
Where can I learn more about Alzheimer's disease?
We encourage you to contact your chapter of the Alzheimer's Association for dementia specific services.
- Alzheimer's Association - Heart of America Chapter (913) 831-3888 or (800) 272-3900
24-hour Helpline: (800) 272-3900
3846 W. 75th Street
Prairie Village, Kansas 66208
Fax: (913) 831-1916
- Alzheimer's Association (785) 271-1844
Northeast Kansas Regional Office
4125 SW Gage Center Drive, Suite LL15
Topeka, Kansas 66604
Fax: (785) 234-0919
- Alzheimer's Association Central and Western Kansas Office (316) 267-7333
Helpline: (800) 272-3900
347 S. Laura
Wichita, Kansas 67211
Fax: (316) 267-6369
Listed below are websites with Alzheimer's information available.
- National Alliance for Caregiving www.caregiving.org
- Alzheimer's Clinical Trials www.alz.org/research/clintrials
- Alzheimer's Association National Headquarters www.alz.org
- Alzheimer's Disease Education and Referral Center (ADEAR) www.alzheimers.org/adear
- National Parkinson Foundation, Inc. www.parkinson.org
Most of the information contained in this fact sheet was obtained from the Caregiver's Guide to Alzheimer's and Related Disorders, the Alzheimer's Disease Wall Chart and from the Alzheimer's Association chapters in Kansas.