Visiting Someone With Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s Disease can make strangers out of loved ones as the disease progresses. Even so, they may still appreciate and benefit from visits by family and friends.

Caregivers may be used to the behavior caused by Alzheimer’s disease. For the rest of us, it takes some getting used to. You can prepare your visit for success by following these tips.

Don’t

  • Ask, “Do you remember?” Problems with memory already frustrate seniors with Alzheimer’s throughout the day. A question like this is likely to cause them embarrassment or anger.
  • Take nasty or mean things they say to you personally. This behavior is often caused by confusion, anger, or fear. They don’t mean it.
  • Argue with them. Let it go if they insist something is correct.
  • Assume they can’t remember anything. Alzheimer’s disease doesn’t rob them of all their memories, and many seniors with the disease have many moments of clarity.

Do

  • Keep your body language and tone of voice friendly and positive. It’s not necessary to speak louder than your normal tone of voice—unless you know they struggle with hearing loss. Let them ask you to speak up first.
  • Gently introduce yourself while you make eye contact. You might be certain they know who you are, but this might be an incorrect assumption.
  • Allow for silences in your conversation. A senior with Alzheimer’s may simply enjoy your nearby physical presence.
  • Speak slowly. Converse with short sentences, and stick to a single idea. Be sure to give them some extra time to respond. Go with the flow if they switch the subject—even if it’s not true or doesn’t make sense. In fact, it’s often best to let them direct the conversation.
  • Ask open-ended questions. If Alzheimer’s is impacting their ability to make decisive responses, it’s easier for them when there’s no absolute right or wrong answer.
  • Talk about shared memories from the past. Alzheimer’s is known for its disruption of short-term memory. They’re more likely to be able to remember occurrences from long ago.
  • Come with a photo album or some of their favorite music. Make it an activity that engages them and gives them the opportunity to lead if they choose.
  • Offer a gentle hug if you’re certain they would permit and enjoy it.

Finally, remember that a visit may be just as stressful to a senior with Alzheimer’s disease as it is for family members and friends who are not used to being around someone who has succumbed to dementia. They may be frustrated by their inability to remember who you are. Use that frustration positively. Retell the story of a favorite shared moment. Make it new again.

Understanding dementia before you visit makes it easier for you, and for them.

FAST: The Acronym Every Senior and Everyone Who Is Around Seniors Should Know

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a stroke happens every 40 seconds. They take the lives of over 140,000 Americans every year—at the pace of 1 person every 4 minutes.

Seniors are more prone to strokes, and quick medical treatment is absolutely necessary to increase survival. What does FAST have to do with strokes? Here’s what you need to know.

Early Action

The chances that you will survive a stroke increase when you receive emergency treatment as soon as possible. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that people who get treatment within 3 hours of the first symptoms of a stroke experience less disability than those who receive delayed care.

The CDC also reports that nearly 75% of all strokes occur in people over the age of 65, making it the 5th leading cause of death in our country. The American Heart Association reports that while the percentage of strokes has increased as a result of heart disease, the actual number of stroke deaths has declined. This is largely due to FAST.

What is a Stroke?

Strokes occur when the blood flow to a certain area of the brain gets cut off. The cells in this area of the brain begin to die because they are starved of oxygen. The resulting damage causes loss of muscle control or memory. Serious strokes are fatal.

Here’s the thing about a stroke: they may not be obvious. Television and movies may be entertaining, but they aren’t always realistic. Transient ischemic attacks—also known as mini strokes—have symptoms that are short-lived or may even spontaneously resolve.

FAST

There are 4 common signs of a stroke, and that’s where FAST comes in. These symptoms often appear suddenly, so if you see them in a senior—or someone of any age—it’s important to get immediate medical help.

  • Face: Ask them to smile. Does it appear uneven?
  • Arms: Ask them to raise both arms and hold them level to the floor. Does one arm drift downwards?
  • Speech: Ask them to repeat a simple phrase, like “Let’s have tacos for lunch today.” Do they slur their words, or maybe even miss a few?
  • Time: This isn’t a symptom—it’s a reminder of what to do. Fast medical treatment is crucial. It’s time to call for emergency medical help.

Make a note of the time if you should happen to notice any of the FAST symptoms. This piece of information is important to medical professionals. Clot-busting drugs called tissue plasminogen activators reduce long-term disability for certain kinds of strokes. This type of medication, however, is approved for stroke treatment only if given within 3 hours of the onset of symptoms.

By the Numbers: The Top 5 Chronic Conditions We Experience as We Grow Older

Can the whole world be reduced to a Top 5 list? Probably not, but sometimes it’s the most helpful way to understand an overwhelming amount of information.

Moving into our senior years may give us freedom from the day-to-day pressures of things like a job, but often this is replaced by the onset of a chronic condition. Most are simply caused by age. It’s estimated that 80% of seniors have at least 1 chronic health condition. Up to 68% have 2 or more. While those statistics might be depressing, it’s also a sign most of us may eventually experience a chronic condition. So, here are the top 5, along with a short description and symptoms. 

1. Hypertension (high blood pressure)

This chronic condition is often called “the silent killer.” Hypertension has no symptoms, even though it can lead to a stroke or heart attack. It’s a serious condition.

Because there are no symptoms, it’s extremely important to have your blood pressure regularly checked. Reducing stress, limiting alcohol and salt intake, as well as exercising and maintaining a healthy weight are ways you can reduce hypertension.

2. High Cholesterol

Our arteries become clogged by eating too many unhealthy fats. It reduces our blood supply and causes heart disease. Like hypertension, there are no apparent symptoms. And also, like hypertension, there are medications which can treat this chronic condition.

While your medical professional may treat high cholesterol with medications, you can also help to manage it by following the same advice for lifestyle changes for hypertension. The main challenge here is that you want to reduce your consumption of saturated and trans fats.

3. Arthritis

Studies show it affects nearly a third of all seniors. The most common form of arthritis is known as osteoarthritis. It’s a disease that causes joint cartilage to break down over time. The symptoms are usually joint pain and stiffness.

For many, the pain is manageable and mild to moderate. For some, the pain becomes chronic.

You can help to delay the onset or manage symptoms by maintaining healthy weight. Here’s an amazing statistic. Losing just a single pound of body weight reduces 4 pounds of pressure on your knees! Regular exercise can help with that weight loss, as well as improve your joint function and reduce pain.

4. Coronary Heart Disease

This chronic condition is also known as ischemic heart disease. It’s caused when plaque builds up in the arteries that lead to the heart. The condition decreases the amount of blood feeding this crucial muscle. It often causes additional conditions like angina (chest pains), blood clots, and heart attacks.

While you may experience some symptoms, such as angina, many symptoms may go unnoticed. You can prevent or manage this chronic condition by limiting your intake of salt, sugar, and trans fats. Reduce your stress, exercise regularly, and get sufficient sleep.

5. Diabetes

Over 25% of seniors have this chronic condition. It’s caused when the level of glucose in your blood is higher than the insulin that your body makes can handle, causing your glucose levels to be high.

There are many symptoms associated with diabetes. High glucose levels damage your kidneys, heart, gums and eyes, your nerves and blood vessels. This damage can lead to heart and kidney disease, as well as strokes and blindness.

Diabetes is often managed by lifestyle changes. Exercise and a healthy diet can help tremendously. Your body weight is a main contributor to this chronic condition.

Take As Prescribed: Why Seniors Fail To Follow Medication Schedules

It’s not just seniors. The New York Times reports that at least half of the medications for chronic diseases simply aren’t taken as prescribed. That’s a serious issue for a person of any age, but it can have even worse consequences for seniors. It’s estimated that 10% of hospitalizations for seniors happen annually because of missing medication doses.

Here are the three main reasons why seniors decide not to take medication prescribed to them, and suggestions on what to do about it.

1. They have difficulty understanding the cost

Not all prescription medications are expensive, but much of it is. Many seniors know that they are on a fixed and limited income, and sometimes they decide it’s a better idea to take less than what has been prescribed.

While it may make the prescription last longer, it can make the benefits of the medicine far less effective—or even totally ineffective. If it’s possible, find out whether this is why a senior is skipping taking their medications. It may be necessary to have a frank discussion with them, reminding them that they’re really not saving money. It will cost far more in hospital or medical bills if their condition is not kept in check.

2. They don’t believe there’s any benefit

Serious health conditions like a heart attack or kidney failure often have a long recovery period. During that time, it may not seem as if the daily medications prescribed are doing anything at all. Seniors may start to lose faith that they indeed will get better. Even worse, taking regular medications is a daily reminder that they are not well.

Keep an ongoing dialog with seniors about the medications they’re taking. Remind them that the medicine works best with a healthy diet and lifestyle changes. Point out improvements you see, which they may not. This can help to associate taking the medication with gradual health improvements.

3. They think there’s no longer any reason to take it

Sometimes it seems like a waste of time—and money—to take a medication if you’re feeling better. That’s always a decision best left to a health professional. Often, medications must continue to be taken even after a senior recovers from a health crisis.

No one is likely to appreciate hearing that they’ll have to take a daily medication for the rest of their lives. Seniors may exercise curiosity and decide to stop taking a medication to see if it changes the way they’re feeling. And, they probably will continue to feel fine for the short term.

The problem with this false sense of wellbeing is that they won’t really be able to determine whether drugs that treat conditions like heart disease or high blood pressure are working or not. Many health conditions in the elderly have few or no noticeable symptoms.

The most important thing to remember as a caregiver is that most seniors do not purposely skip medications with the intention of harming themselves. Many times, they simply need a reminder or reassurance that it the medication really is good for them, regardless of what they can or can’t feel.