When you notice changes in an aging parent’s memory, you might worry it is Alzheimer’s. For many people, it’s the only symptom they are familiar with. Others, such as a change in disposition or problems managing finances, can be red flags, too. But each of these can also be warning signs of a reversible medical condition, such as a vitamin B12 deficiency or an undetected infection.
While there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s, early interventions may help slow progression of the disease. That’s why it’s important for a senior to see their physician when changes first begin to appear.
How Physicians Diagnose Alzheimer’s
People are often surprised to learn there is no single test that can diagnose Alzheimer’s disease. Instead, it is a process of identifying common symptoms of the disease and eliminating other potential causes.
If a physician suspects Alzheimer’s disease, they will usually complete the following tests to arrive at a diagnosis:
- Family and personal medical history: Your parent’s doctor will likely ask you to share the changes that concern you, so create a list before the first appointment. The doctor will also ask questions about the senior’s medical history and personal lifestyle factors. Diet, exercise, alcohol consumption, and smoking will likely be discussed.
- Physical examination: The physician will assess the senior’s mental and physical wellness. This usually includes checking blood pressure, heart rate, temperature, pulse, and reflexes. The doctor will assess cognitive abilities by asking the senior a series of questions or presenting them with problems to solve. They are designed to evaluate memory, judgment, attention span, reasoning, and language skills.
- Brain imaging: Brain scans are usually conducted. They help detect if the brain is shrinking, while also looking for other potential causes of the changes you’ve noticed in your parent. An aneurysm, tumor, nerve injury, or stroke can all be detected through brain imaging. These conditions can also cause symptoms that look like Alzheimer’s.
- Blood tests: To rule out other conditions that mimic Alzheimer’s, bloodwork will be performed. It can detect a thyroid problem, a urinary tract or other infection, or vitamin B12 deficiency.
- Depression evaluation: Depression is another illness that causes symptoms similar to Alzheimer’s. So much so, it is often referred to as pseudodementia. The physician will usually conduct a depression screening or refer the patient to a mental health expert for an assessment.
- Spinal tap: A process that has been used with success in European countries is collecting cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) to identify biomarkers. It’s done through a spinal tap. In 2018, the Food and Drug Administration approved it for use in this country.
Based on the results of these tests, the primary care doctor will determine if the symptoms are likely Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. If so, they may refer the patient to a neurologist for further follow-up. The tests might also identify a different medical condition that will require appropriate follow-up.
Leaders in Memory Care Services
At Heritage Senior Communities, we understand how difficult it can be to meet the needs of a loved one with memory impairments at home. Whether it’s Alzheimer’s disease or a different type of dementia, safety and quality of life are issues families worry about.
That’s why many of our assisted living centers have a dedicated unit focused on memory care called The Terrace. We invite you to call The Terrace program nearest you with questions about memory care or to schedule an in-person or virtual tour.
Caring for a senior who has Alzheimer’s disease can be rewarding. The hands-on role allows you to make a meaningful difference and provide emotional support. Taking your loved one to physician appointments, managing medications, and preparing meals help you feel confident they are receiving quality care.
The increasing demands of caregiving might make it tough to maintain your own mental and physical well-being. Back pain, headaches, stomach problems, and insomnia are a few of the most common medical issues caregivers report. Unfortunately, so are anxiety and depression.
Caregivers also experience guilt and fear wondering if they are meeting their loved one’s needs. This type of second-guessing can increase stress, something most caregivers already struggle to manage.
If this situation sounds familiar, it’s likely time to create a plan to regain a healthier sense of balance in your life. Here are a few steps you can take.
3 Ways to Restore Balance When You Are a Caregiver
- Take time off.
This might be tough for a dedicated caregiver, especially given the current coronavirus concerns. Taking regular breaks is essential for caregivers. Could another family member or friend stay with your senior loved one for a few hours each week? You will be a better caregiver if you are able to take time off on a regular basis.
If you don’t have anyone who can help, you might want to consider respite services through an in-home care agency. Depending on the status of the COVID-19 pandemic in your area, your family member may be able to stay at a local memory care community a few days each month.
This has another benefit: allowing you to evaluate if the community is a good fit for your loved one should the need arise. Having a backup plan if you fall ill or are otherwise unable to care for your loved one can give you peace of mind.
- Connect with support.
Family members often feel a strong sense of duty when it comes to taking care of a loved one with Alzheimer’s. The idea of turning a loved one’s care over to someone else isn’t easy, especially when they may have limited verbal skills and memory loss. Talking your challenges through with peers who can relate will help.
Alzheimer’s support groups are hosted in a variety of places ranging from local churches to area senior centers and libraries. Another safe option is to connect with an online caregiver support group. This article will help you learn more, including how to find an online group to join.
- Engage in nurturing activities.
Engage in activities that boost your spirit on a regular basis. While it may feel like a luxury, spending even short amounts of time on hobbies or tasks that bring peace will make you a better caregiver.
Enjoy a few laughs over lunch or on a video chat with a friend. Take an art class online. Plant an indoor or outdoor herb garden. Meditation, Tai Chi, and yoga are also good ways to connect with your spirit.
Call Heritage with Questions about Dementia Care
If you think the time has come to start exploring memory care communities in Michigan or Indiana, or if you have questions about dementia care in general, we’ll be happy to help. Call a Heritage specialized dementia community today!
My grandparents live about six hours away from me. We’ve suspected my grandfather was having health issues, but never imagined it would be Alzheimer’s. While relatives visit them almost every month, we never noticed signs of Alzheimer’s.
A few weeks ago, my grandfather became lost while walking the dog. It was terrifying for my grandmother and led to his recent Alzheimer’s diagnosis.
My family and I are trying to learn all we can about the disease. I’m especially seeking advice on how to discuss this with my children. Do you have any suggestions?
Alzheimer’s Disease Resources and Tools
While some people with Alzheimer’s exhibit the classic sign of forgetfulness early, the symptoms can be more subtle in others. They might include withdrawing from social activities or making mistakes with finances. Then a major event occurs, like your grandfather becoming lost, and the disease becomes more obvious.
You are on the right track in trying to learn about the disease. It will teach you how to support your grandfather now and in the future. Fortunately, resources and tools are much more readily available than in the past.
Visit these sites to read and learn more about Alzheimer’s disease:
- What is Alzheimer’s Disease?: The Alzheimer’s Association created this very comprehensive online resource. It covers everything from symptoms to disease progression and research.
- Inside the Brain: If you like to know the “why” behind everything in life, this brain tour will be of interest. It starts with a detailed explanation of how the brain works and moves on to how Alzheimer’s impacts brain function.
- Alzheimer’s Disease Fact Sheet: Created by the National Institute on Aging, this fact sheet is actually a series of links to useful articles. Topics include clinical trials, treatment, and caregiver support.
Finally, I encourage you to bookmark and follow the Heritage blog. We regularly publish articles like Talking with Kids about Alzheimer’s Disease and Activities for Kids to Do with a Grandparent Who Has Alzheimer’s Disease.
I hope these resources are useful, Alyssa! Feel free to call any of the Heritage Senior Communities if you have any questions about Alzheimer’s disease or memory care. One of our experienced memory care team members will be happy to assist you.
Dementia Care at Heritage Senior Communities
Family owned for four generations, Heritage Senior Communities is a respected name in dementia care services. With communities throughout Michigan, we encourage you to visit Specialized Dementia Care to learn more about our unique approach to caring for adults with Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia.
I’ve been the primary caregiver for my dad for over 3 years. He has Alzheimer’s disease and moved in with my husband and I. His forgetfulness made it unsafe for him to live alone. He was neglecting to take his heart disease medication and was beginning to wander from home and become lost.
While I am retired and fortunate not to have to work outside the home, some days I struggle to keep up with my dad. He doesn’t sleep much, so I have trouble keeping an eye on him.
My friend suggested I look for an Alzheimer’s caregiver group to join. In all honesty, I think it’s just one more thing to fit into my schedule.
In your experience, what are the benefits of joining a caregiver support group? Is it worth the time it takes to attend?
Barb in Saginaw, MI
Why Join a Caregiver Support Group?
What a great question! I’m sure other family members wonder the same thing. While it might initially seem like more work, there are important benefits of joining a caregiver support group:
- Validate your feelings: Family caregivers experience a range of emotions. It’s sad watching a loved one’s decline. You may fear you aren’t doing a good job. Then there is the unspoken emotion: guilt. Caregiving for a family member often means sacrificing your personal time. It can make even the best-intentioned caregiver a little resentful. When you talk with fellow caregivers, you’ll quickly discover these feelings are normal.
- Share ideas: Being part of a support group gives you access to others who’ve likely experienced similar struggles. They can offer tips for how to prevent wandering or what to do when a loved one won’t eat. You can learn what’s worked for other caregivers so you have new ideas to try.
- Vent frustrations: Let’s face it, caregiving can be emotional. Families often disagree about how to handle vital issues. It’s especially tough when loved ones have strong opinions on how things should be done but aren’t willing to help. A caregiver support group provides a place to vent your anger and frustration.
- Feel connected: Family caregivers often feel isolated and lonely. This is especially true if the elder has Alzheimer’s and isn’t safe staying alone. Commiserating and laughing over common struggles with people who relate can help you feel less alone.
Online Support Groups for Alzheimer’s Caregivers
Because the challenges Alzheimer’s caregivers face are so unique, it might be easier to connect with an online support group. ALZConnected is one that is hosted by the Alzheimer’s Association.
I hope this helps, Barb! I wish you the best of luck caregiving for your dad.
Memory Care at Heritage Senior Communities
Heritage Senior Communities has been caring for adults with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia since 1946. Our family-owned company is dedicated to helping people with dementia enjoy their best quality of life, despite the disease. Call the Heritage community closest to you to learn more!