This article was originally published on June 7, 2017, and last updated on September 21, 2017.
September 21 is World Alzheimer’s Day, a day to raise awareness of this growing disease. In light of this, here are the 10 early warning signs of Alzheimer’s, courtesy of the Alzheimer’s Association:
- Difficulty completing familiar tasks
- Confusion with time or place
- Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
- New problems with words in speaking or writing
- Misplacing things and being unable to retrace one’s steps
- Decreased or poor judgment
- Withdrawal from work or social activities
- Changes in mood and personality
These are just a few of the warning signs. A little confusion is normal as we age; however, when symptoms start affecting everyday life, it might lead to an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. Researchers are working hard to come up with new treatments and to cut this disease off at the pass, but in the meantime, it’s important to get educated about this progressive disease.
What is Alzheimer’s?
Worldwide, 47 million people are living with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia that gets worse over time, eventually taking away all brain function. Plaques and tangles in the brain are the causes of the brain’s deterioration. Scientists still do not know why, but they are working harder than ever to discover a cure for this disease that is one of the leading causes of death in America. It not only affects those afflicted but also their families and caregivers.
In the past, it was thought that Alzheimer’s was just a normal part of aging—but it is not. Younger people are now being affected as well, with about 200,000 Americans under 65 diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
If you or a loved one has Alzheimer’s, here’s what you should know about what Medicare will cover:
- inpatient hospital care
- visits to primary care doctors and specialists
- lab tests
- speech and occupational therapy
- home health care
- outpatient counseling services
- walkers, wheelchairs, or other equipment recommended by a doctor
- many prescription drugs (under Medicare Part D)
- up to 100 days of skilled nursing home care under limited circumstances
- hospice care delivered in the home, a nursing facility, or an inpatient hospice facility for people with dementia who are near the end of life
Medicare will not cover:
- Long-term custodial care (nursing home care, assisted living facilities, adult daycare, hiring home help). See information on long-term care insurance.
Starting in 2017, Medicare now pays for cognitive assessment and care planning services for people with Alzheimer’s. Under Medicare Advantage, there are Medicare Special Needs Plans (SNPs). Enrolling in a Medigap plan to supplement Original Medicare may also help to cover more services.
Being a Caregiver
If you are a spouse or caregiver to someone with Alzheimer’s, we know it can be difficult to deal with the changes that come with this disease. So we spoke with dementia specialist and former certified nursing home activities director Sue Biddle, who has worked with Alzheimer’s patients for 30 years.
“You have to change your expectations of their reality,” Biddle says. For example, rather than correcting them when they are wrong about the time of day or what city they are in, try to redirect them to another activity or to something that you love. “Bring yourself to them with something that you really like.”
But don’t buy into their reality, or make up stories. They can tell when you are lying since their emotional perception is still very high. “The thing they know best is whether you’re lying or not,” Biddle says. “The key is to validate their state of mind but stay in your own reality.”
“People with Alzheimer’s are people – all of their likes, dislikes, loves, and passions are still there; they are just deep inside,” she continued. “There is a way to connect. Somebody has to discover what that is and use that as a pathway to communicate.”
Communities of Care
When the burden becomes too much on one caregiver, Biddle suggests assembling a team of people to help in the care, each person with a different skill set. Even if it is just someone new coming to your home one day a week to help bathe and clean, that can ease your burden. “One person can’t solve the problem every time,” she said. It’s important to get help to relieve your responsibility and your mind. If mental and physical decline becomes too much, a nursing home is sometimes a safer and better option for the patient as well as his or her family.
The Conundrum of Care
Care for someone with Alzheimer’s can be a challenge, but with Medicare now covering care planning services, it may be easier to create a plan that works for everyone.
If possible, seek out volunteer groups in your region that offer adult daycare and other activities for older adults and people with dementia. The Department of Aging lists resources for care by state. Anything that allows the patient to be in a situation that is not stressful and where he or she can have a sense of normalcy will help.
Clinical Trials, Alternative Therapies
Alzheimer’s patients can even receive treatment by volunteering for a clinical trial through the Alzheimer’s Association.
In addition, alternative therapies such as art and music can be very helpful, as they make use of different parts of the brain than speech. Many people with dementia can still sing or paint, even if they can’t speak. They can also remember old movies or songs from their past even if they can’t remember much else.
“Just because someone with Alzheimer’s can’t speak, doesn’t mean they are not there,” says Biddle. That’s why it is important to bring in other modalities of care like art, music, dance, gardening, and other creative activities. Creative expression—yours, theirs, or someone else’s—can bring back memories and stimulate them in new ways. “The creative process is without time, and that’s how people with dementia are,” she added.
“Even in people who can’t talk, move, or eat, I have still seen the joy of living in their eyes. Don’t give up on people with dementia.”