Alzheimer's and Dementia
Approximately four million Americans have Alzheimer's disease and this number will increase as more people live longer. More than seven of 10 people with Alzheimer's disease live at home. Knowing how to recognize the signs of this disease helps families get treatment early, when it can make the most difference
Research has shown that mental stimulation can reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia. Specifically, it has been found that reading books, doing crossword puzzles, and playing cards and board games can keep the brain stimulated. Also, at least one form of physical activity has been shown to reduce one's risk - dancing.
Staying active may become more difficult as one ages, particularly when an individual finds him or herself alone for the first time in many years due to the loss of a spouse or close friend. It may mean trying new things. Fortunately, there are many ways to remain active. Senior centers offer many opportunities for social activity, lifelong learning, exercise, travel and much more. There are also many other programs to help you stay active.
If you believe you or your loved one is showing signs of dementia, it is important to discuss this with a physician so that a thorough evaluation can be done to establish the reason for the changes. A full evaluation includes assessments by all the appropriate medical professionals and perhaps testing of mental and physical abilities, lab work and other tests.
It is important to establish a diagnosis so that a treatment plan can be developed. Many hospitals have specialists in geriatrics (the care of older adults) who can help in the diagnostic process. Some hospitals also have a geriatric evaluation center that can provide a thorough assessment and make recommendations for treatment and care.
After the Diagnosis
Keeping active after a diagnosis is just as important as keeping active before. There are a number of options for individuals who may need more structure to manage independently. Most senior centers offer programs for individuals who need some guidance and assistance to function independently. These programs may work well for a person in the early stages of the disease.
If more assistance and/or supervision is needed, adult medical day centers offer socialization, recreation and medical monitoring. If it is no longer safe for the person to live alone at home, explore having the person live with family or close friends, or moving your relative to an assisted living facility or a nursing home.
Help is Available
If your loved one is diagnosed with dementia, it is critical that you educate yourself about the disease and the resources available to help you and your family. The Alzheimer's Association is a wonderful source of information about the disease and the help available to families. The Alzheimer's Association offers support groups, respite care, education and other services for caregivers. In addition, there are also support groups for individuals who are in the early stages of the disease.
In addition, every Area Agency on Aging in Maryland and throughout the country offers services for family caregivers of the elderly. For example, the Baltimore County Department of Aging offers individual consultations with professional staff for caregivers, as well as seminars, workshops, a newsletter and other programs.