When most people hear the words Alzheimer’s disease, a mental picture of an older person comes to mind. While it is true that advanced age usually plays a role in a person’s risk of Alzheimer’s, there are exceptions. A person under the age of 65 who is diagnosed with the disease is typically considered to have early-onset dementia.
While the odds of developing the disease are low (only 5 to 6 percent of the 6 million cases of Alzheimer’s disease in this country are people under the age of 65) it’s still important to understand the risk. This is especially true if a parent or grandparent had early-onset Alzheimer’s.
What Is Early-Onset Alzheimer’s?
When the days are busy, it’s easy to misplace things or forget to run an errand from time to time. It’s one reason adults in their 40s or 50s might originally miss the most common early symptom of the disease in themselves or a loved one: forgetfulness.
Added to that is the fact that stress and some medical conditions can mimic Alzheimer’s disease. Age can also play a role in not receiving a timely diagnosis. Even if a middle-aged adult faithfully sees their primary care physician every year, the doctor might not look for signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s assuming their patient is too young.
If you are concerned that your forgetfulness or that of a loved one is more than just the demands of a busy life, here’s one quick way to understand the difference. When you or your family member temporarily forgets someone’s name or an important appointment, is it remembered later? If so, it’s probably nothing to worry about. If not, it should be discussed with the doctor. Memory loss that disrupts daily life may be a red flag for dementia or another health condition.
Signs of Early-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease
If you are concerned about the changes you see in yourself or a loved one, some of the warning signs of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease beyond memory loss can include:
- Having difficulty getting organized and ready for work or other daily plans
- Being unable or struggling to complete multi-step tasks, such as writing out checks or preparing a meal
- Declining judgment skills, especially related to financial management
- Experiencing a change in disposition or personality, such as becoming quick to anger or easily tearful
- Becoming lost in familiar places or on the way to and from known destinations
- Using words incorrectly or laboring to find the right word
- Asking the same questions repeatedly but not being aware of it
- Developing vision problems, especially a loss of depth perception
These are all red flags that should be shared with a physician for further follow up and testing. Keep in mind that the symptoms outlined above may be indicators of a treatable condition, such as an infection, thyroid disease, or even a vitamin deficiency.
A primary care physician will likely conduct a physical examination to determine if the problem is Alzheimer’s and to rule out conditions that can mimic most types of dementia. In some cases, these medical issues can be reversed with early intervention. That’s why it’s important to schedule a doctor’s appointment promptly.
A Reputation for Excellence in Dementia Care at Heritage
If the need for specialized dementia care in Michigan does arise, we encourage you to consider Heritage Senior Communities. Our person-centered approach to care helps adults with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia live their best quality of life. Call the Heritage community nearest you to learn more!
My husband and I have been providing emotional and physical support to his uncle for several years now. However, a recent change in health has made that very difficult to continue doing. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease about 8 months ago.
Uncle Jim has been a widower for over 10 years. He’s very independent and fiercely proud. But the changes we started detecting about a year ago made us concerned about his safety. After convincing him it was time to see a doctor, we were sad to receive this diagnosis.
Though we live fairly close, he is alone all day long and many evenings. My husband, children, and I are in and out, but I think he needs more. I worry he will wander from home, become lost, and something awful will happen to him.
Our uncle is on a fairly tight budget, but since he’s a veteran he might be entitled to more assistance from the Veterans Benefits Administration. My friend told me there is a benefit that specifically helps finance senior care and different health care needs.
Could this benefit help pay for a move to a memory care community? While we are sad not to be able to care for him at home, we know that his safety and well-being will likely be better in a community known for caring for people with dementia.
Can you help connect us with information about this benefit for veterans?
Jake and Jenny in Midland, MI
Understanding the Veterans Aid and Attendance Benefit for Senior Care
Dear Jake and Jenny:
I’m glad your friend talked with you about this benefit. It’s sometimes overlooked because veterans and their families aren’t aware it exists. It is known as the Aid and Attendance benefit and was created to offer financial support to veterans and their spouses or the surviving spouses of deceased veterans.
Veterans aged 65 or older who served at least 90 days of active military service, at least one day of which was during an acknowledged period of war, may be eligible for this support. This benefit also extends to surviving spouses of veterans.
Here’s a quick overview of what veterans and their loved ones should know:
- Demonstrate need: The veteran or surviving spouse must be able to demonstrate the need for assistance. The Veterans Benefits Administration conducts an evaluation to make this determination. Factors such as the senior’s ability to independently perform daily activities and any disabilities one or both spouses have are used in the assessment.
- Financial qualification: The Veterans Benefits Administration will look at the family’s yearly income and total net worth when deciding if they qualify for assistance and in determining how much they will receive. These guidelines are established by Congress and are adjusted each year.
- Current pension recipient: Applicants must already be receiving a VA pension or must be eligible to apply.
- Honorably discharged from service: A veteran must have parted from their military service in good standing. Those who received a dishonorable discharge are usually not eligible for these benefits.
- No service-related injury required: One myth is that the veteran must have sustained an injury during their time in military service to qualify for help. That’s not true. A qualifying health condition does not need to be related to their time in the service.
Finally, the Veterans Benefits Administration mandates that a veteran must have served least 90 days of active military service to receive this benefit. At least one day of that service must have taken place during an acknowledged period of war. This is the current list of wars and conflicts that meet the period of war requirement:
- World War I (April 6, 1917–November 11, 1918)
- World War II (December 7, 1941–December 31, 1946)
- Korean conflict (June 27, 1950–January 31, 1955)
- Vietnam era (November 1, 1955–May 7, 1975 for veterans who served in the Republic of Vietnam during that period; otherwise, August 5, 1964–May 7, 1975)
- Gulf War (August 2, 1990–a future date to be set by law or presidential proclamation)
I hope this information is helpful to you and your uncle. If you have questions, I encourage you to contact one of the Heritage Senior Communities. Our team members are well-versed in the Aid and Attendance benefit and may be able to help you find answers.
I’ve been caregiving for my parents for several years now. They still live in their own home and I visit multiple times each week. Lately, I’ve noticed some changes in my dad.
He’ll be 84 in April, so I understand he’s getting older. But I’m concerned there might be something wrong. He is very forgetful and seems less interested in hobbies and friends than usual. My dad’s father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease at about the same age.
How can I tell the difference between normal aging and the early signs of Alzheimer’s or some other kind of dementia?
Cindy in Saline, MI
Does My Senior Loved One Have Early Signs of Dementia?
Like you, family members often aren’t sure if changes in a senior loved one are a normal part of aging or an early sign of something more serious. This is especially true when adult children notice some of the red flags commonly associated with Alzheimer’s disease, such as forgetfulness or getting lost.
While memory loss is a classic sign of Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia, there are other health concerns that closely resemble the disease. It may be helpful to learn more about the early symptoms of dementia as well as medical conditions that mimic Alzheimer’s.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, some of the early warning signs of the disease are:
- Being unable to hold a conversation
- Having trouble concentrating, especially for reading or writing
- Misplacing belongings around the home
- Losing track of time and what day it is
- Struggling to complete familiar tasks
- Gaining or losing weight unintentionally
- Getting lost going to and from familiar places
- Making frequent mistakes with personal finances
- Experiencing a change in personality or disposition
- Losing problem-solving or planning skills
- Forgetting to attend personal appointments or important events
While the symptoms outlined above might be the result of Alzheimer’s disease or a similar form of dementia, they could be caused by something else.
Health Issues That Present Like Alzheimer’s Disease
If you continue to see a pattern of changes in your dad, document them and schedule an appointment with his physician. His doctor will likely want to conduct a physical exam and order blood work to rule out other health conditions that have symptoms similar to Alzheimer’s disease, such as:
- Thyroid disease
- Infection (especially bladder infection)
- Medication side effects
- Interaction between medications
- Vitamin B-12 deficiency
- Uncontrolled diabetes
Fortunately, some of these medical issues are treatable with proper interventions.
If your dad’s physician rules out all of the conditions above, the next step may be to refer him to a neurologist for more testing. Because there isn’t one definitive test for Alzheimer’s disease, the neurologist will have their own protocols for making a diagnosis. It may include a variety of testing, a CT scan, an MRI, a PET scan, or even a lumbar puncture.
I hope this information is useful to you, Cindy. If you have questions about dementia or dementia care at an assisted living community, I encourage you to call a Heritage memory care community near you! One of our experienced team members will be happy to help.
My mom has been caring for her older sister who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s almost 3 years ago. My aunt’s disease makes this a very challenging role for my 78-year-old mother. She’s been living mostly with her sister for the past year while my husband and I take care of my mom’s house.
While my aunt has adult children of her own, they seem to be in denial about how much care she needs and how difficult it is just to keep her safe. Worries about wandering, a new behavior for my aunt, keep my mom from getting a good night’s rest. It’s rare for my cousins to help with anything, even the upkeep and maintenance around her house.
I often ask my mom what I can do to help, but she just tells me she’s doing okay. I know that’s not the case. The physical and emotional toll it’s taking on her is tough to watch. It’s time for me to intervene, get her some help, and possibly have a frank discussion with my cousins about helping their mom.
Do you have any tips for me on how to proceed? My mom really needs some support.
Jayme in Grand Haven, MI
Caring for an Alzheimer’s Caregiver
Alzheimer’s is a disease that impacts the entire family. Unfortunately, you’ve discovered just how difficult it can be. I’m sure it’s tough for you to watch your aunt’s health decline, as well as your mom’s. This disease is referred to as the “long good-bye” for families because of how it slowly robs an adult of their ability to care for themselves.
I do have a few ideas that I hope you find useful:
- Utilize technology: Since you mentioned your aunt has begun to wander, I think it’s important to address this issue immediately. There are forms of technology that help manage wandering. It can help keep your aunt safe and allow your mom to sleep again. If the house doesn’t have a home security system that sounds an alarm if a door or window is opened, have one installed if you can. That will give your mom some peace of mind. In addition, there are a variety of GPS tracking devices you can take advantage of. From watches to pendants, “GPS Tech Products for Adults with Alzheimer’s” might help you choose a device that allows you to quickly locate your aunt should she wander from home.
- Provide healthy meals: Poor nutrition is common among people who have Alzheimer’s disease and their caregivers. You can help prevent that by providing simple, healthy meals. Stock the freezer with options your mom can pull out and heat up as needed. Another suggestion is to set up a Meal Train that allows friends and family to sign up to drop off food. You’ll probably find people in your life who’ve wanted to help, but haven’t been sure how to do so. This platform is free and easy to use.
- Explore respite services: A type of care you and your mom might not be familiar with is respite. This short-term stay at Heritage Senior Communities is designed to give loved ones a break. The senior stays with us for a few days or weeks so a family caregiver can rest or attend to personal business. Respite guests receive the same type of support as our long-term residents, such as nutritious meals, daily activities, medication reminders, and assistance with personal care. You could help your mom by exploring local assisted living communities that offer respite to figure out which one might be a good fit.
- Encourage a family meeting: It sounds like it may be time to organize a family conference. Ask a friend to stay with your aunt so you and your mom can meet with your cousins in another setting. Create an agenda for the meeting to share ahead of time, along with a list of tasks that your aunt needs assistance with. Give some concrete examples of how your cousins can assist their mom. Some families find it helpful to have a neutral party mediate. It might be their pastor or priest or even a paid geriatric care manager.
I hope this information is useful, Jayme! Please call a nearby Heritage community if you have any questions or if you would like to tour a memory care program on your aunt’s behalf.
When a senior loved one has Alzheimer’s disease, family members often pitch in to help with their care. It can be a rewarding experience. Whether it is a spouse, parent, or grandparent, providing support for a loved one helps you feel as if you are making a difference.
But caregiving can also be physically and emotionally exhausting. The unique challenges caused by the disease can leave family caregivers fatigued and worn out. It’s fairly common for loved ones to begin experiencing health issues of their own as a result.
Added to that is the emotional journey Alzheimer’s takes families on. Dementia experts often call it “the long good-bye.” It’s a fitting description of a disease that slowly robs a person of their health, independence, and memory.
The Alzheimer’s Caregiver Struggle
The demands of caring for an adult with Alzheimer’s are unique. Whether it’s worries about wandering or issues related to memory, loved ones face a variety of challenges. It can lead to feelings of uncertainty and loneliness.
Families may get embarrassed about behaviors they aren’t aware are common when a person has Alzheimer’s, such as angry outbursts in public or inappropriate comments. While friends may sympathize, they likely can’t understand and relate unless they’ve been through it.
The result is that between 40 and 70 percent of family caregivers find themselves battling depression. One way to better cope with the rollercoaster of emotions many caregivers experience is connecting with peers. Joining a caregiver support group allows you to do just that.
Benefits of Joining a Caregiver Support Group
Support groups give caregivers a judgement-free place to share guilt, fears, and frustrations. It can also be a forum for asking questions and obtaining suggestions from people who’ve faced similar challenges. You can join a support group that meets in person, such as one hosted by a specialized dementia care community or senior center, or an online group.
Some caregivers prefer an in-person meeting because of the face-to-face interaction it offers. It can be a meaningful way to connect with caregiving peers. Others are more comfortable with the anonymity of an online support group or forum. The 24/7 accessibility makes it easier for busy caregivers to participate. Caregivers can post their questions or challenges in chat forums or on message boards any time of day or night and get advice.
Here are a few online caregiver support groups to explore:
- ALZConnected: Created by the Alzheimer’s Association, this forum gives dementia caregivers access to helpful information and resources. They also host message boards and chat rooms dedicated to specific topics related to Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.
- Family Caregiver Alliance: This organization is for all types of caregivers. Through this website, people can connect with groups that support everything from cancer patients to struggling spouses.
- com: On this site, you will find resources and forums on a variety of topics of interest to caregivers. They range from where to buy adult briefs at the best price to how to plan for a loved one’s move to senior living.
Specialized Dementia Care at Heritage
If you are caring for a loved one who has Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, exploring the options for assistance in your local area is important. For those who live in Michigan, Heritage Senior Communities may be of interest. We invite you to schedule a visit and personal tour of a specialized dementia care program at a location near you!
My 76-year-old father moved in with my family earlier this spring. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s just over a year ago and isn’t safe living alone any longer. I’m slowly learning how to work around the changes the disease has caused and to improve his health and quality of life.
I’ve come up with some activities that allow him to feel productive despite his Alzheimer’s, such as helping me around the house and in the garden. When he was living alone, he skipped a lot of meals and lost a considerable amount of weight. While I’ve found ways to encourage him to eat, I’m still struggling to get him to drink water.
Dad’s doctor told me he was dehydrated during his last appointment and that I need to encourage him to drink often throughout the day. I think the underlying issue is my dad seems to be afraid of water. Does that happen with Alzheimer’s? My husband helps him with his showers and said it’s becoming increasingly difficult.
Do you have any advice for us?
Kristie in Sutton’s Bay, MI
Water, Hydration, and Alzheimer’s Disease
What a great observation! It is fairly common for a person with Alzheimer’s to develop a fear of water. Water-related tasks, such as filling a glass of water or showering, can result in anxiety and agitation. Just the sound of water running can cause fear. But it’s obviously very important that your dad stays hydrated, which can be even more difficult during the summer.
Here are a few suggestions that might be helpful:
- Be mindful when you fill his water glass: If your dad has developed a phobia about water, it might help to fill his water glass when he isn’t within hearing range. Add lemon, cucumber, or berries to the glass for a bit of a distraction. Using a dark-colored glass might also be helpful in disguising the water.
- Provide frequent reminders: Since people with memory loss may forget to drink water, prompting them to drink throughout the day might help. Don’t wait for your dad to say he is thirsty. Just tell him it’s time for a drink. It might help if you drink water while encouraging him to do so.
- Serve foods that hydrate: Also remember that many fruits and vegetables have a high water content. This makes it easier for adults with Alzheimer’s to increase hydration. Leafy greens, melon, berries, tomatoes, celery, cauliflower, and cucumber are just a few. Soup and broth are other good choices.
- Review his medications: Some medications have a diuretic effect that can increase the risk for dehydration. Talk with your dad’s pharmacist to determine if any of his prescriptions or over-the-counter medications might be an issue. If you find one that is, ask his primary care doctor for advice on how much fluid he should be taking in to compensate for it. There might even be another medication that can be substituted.
I hope a few of these tips are helpful to you, Kristie! Best wishes to you and your dad.
Dementia Care at Heritage Senior Communities
If someone you love has Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia, our Specialized Dementia Care program might be a solution. From person-centered care to guided social interactions, the program is designed to allow people with dementia to live their best quality of life. Call the closest Heritage community on this list to learn more!