How Alzheimer's and Dementia Can Affect Your Family and Elderly Care

Alzheimer's is one of the larger health issues affecting people today. The disease causes a gradual loss in memory and cognitive capability. Although there are other forms of senility, Alzheimer's is the most common and tends to attract the most attention, both amongst health researchers and amongst the general public.

The Alzheimer's Association estimates that 5.4 million people currently suffer from Alzheimer's disease, but this only refers to the patients themselves. Some 14.9 million friends, partners, and family members devote their time to caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's. Senile dementia is a related disease, and falls into the category of elderly issues we all are faced with.

While some memory loss and mental deterioration is normal aging, the most common early symptom of Alzheimer's is forgetting recently learned information.

Of course, this happens to all of us sometimes, even to younger individuals, but if it starts happening often, then it may be a sign. Patients may also forget how to do activities once familiar, such as cooking, lose track of words, or forget when and where they are. Additionally, patients may develop mood swings, and demonstrate crabby and obnoxious behavior, especially towards their caregivers.

Susceptibility to Alzheimer's disease is unclear. It's possible there's a genetic element, but scientists are still researching the causes of the condition. What is known is that the brain of the patient shows abnormal structures, called 'plaques' or 'tangles'. It is also known that you can reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer's by becoming and remaining physically and mentally active. Seniors who regularly play games, and take daily walks are less likely to suffer from various types of mental deterioration.

It is also recommended that patients eat healthy, reduce alcohol consumption and exercise daily. Depression is a common reaction to the diagnosis, and patients should consider counseling.

The diagnosis also, though, affects the person's family. Many choose to try and care for the Alzheimer's sufferer at home for as long as possible. However, this rapidly becomes a full time job and can be extremely stressful. In advanced stages, patients often demonstrate personality changes, becoming irritable and aggressive in addition to forgetting who loved ones are. Homes need to be secured, as Alzheimer's individuals may do stupid things that endanger themselves and others, or wander off and become lost.

Alternatives exist, and getting professional help should be on the list. The key is to not make them feel like being abandoned.

Alzheimer's is an unpleasant disease for which there is no cure. However, there are things patients and their families can do to stave off the decline as long as possible.

Are These Really The Golden Years? Here Are Key Tips To Help.

For older Californians, life can be stressful and overwhelming as personal losses accumulate. In a single year or two, an individual could lose a spouse, his or her health, the ability to drive, and the ability to live in ones home independently.

In some countries, the elderly enjoy an elevated social status because of the experience and the wisdom they have to share. An extensive family network shares responsibility for older family members, who view it as an honor and opportunity to repay the debt of those who cared for them when they were small.

But in America's "youth culture," it's easy for the elderly to feel devalued and pushed aside in favor of those who are more attractive, more agile, and more productive. By the same token, an increasing number of adult children feel squeezed between the needs of both their parents and their children.

While there are no easy answers for the elderly or their caregivers, there are some things that can be done to make elder care easier including arranging for help, educating ones self, and setting limits.

Help is Available

Arranging for help may disappoint the elderly person in your life. Therefore, it is important to reassure your loved one that your goal is to help him or her safely maintain the most independence safely.

  • Adult day care: These centers offer a welcome respite from full-time care giving. Centers offer three types of care: social activities and meals for elders who can benefit from more engagement; more intensive health, therapeutic, and social services for those at risk for more extensive care; and Alzheimer's specific care. Many offer services on a sliding fee scale.
  • Non-medical home health care: Some home health agencies specialize in a wide array of services that include doing light housework, laundry, scheduling or preparing meals, running of errands, providing transportation, and doing telephone check-ups.
  • Social services: These can range from Meals on Wheels and affordable housing programs to senior outreach and protective services' programs that can assist frail adults. Seniors are often most receptive to such services when they are proposed by a respected professional.
What You Can Do Right Now
  1. Practice self-care first. You can only be a good caregiver if you take time to ensure your own well-being through enjoyable activities, respite from care giving, and maintaining your health through diet and exercise.
  2. Learn about your loved one's condition. This will help you plan ahead and know what to expect as the illness progresses.
  3. Show sensitivity. You can help an elderly person maintain dignity by speaking in the same way you like to be spoken to and by sitting at eye-level to speak with someone in a wheelchair.
  4. Offer time to sit and talk. Consider visiting with take-out sandwiches rather than showing up to make a home-made meal, if your loved one would rather spend your time together talking.
  5. Set limits. When an elderly person makes unreasonable demands or is inflexible, critical or negative, change the subject and focus on the positive. Explain what you can and will do and what you cannot. Set time limits for discussions of health complaints and then decide what merits action.
  6. >Find a support group. You can tap into new resources to provide respite, hope, and reassurance for yourself.
  7. Consult with a marriage and family therapist (MFT) who specializes in elder care issues. MFTs can provide counseling for the elderly to reduce anxiety, provide emotional support, and MFTs may use interventions that can result in more satisfying daily life.

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Helpful Resources

American Society on Aging

California Department of Mental Health

Center for Elderly Suicide Prevention

Center for Healthy Aging

Featured Therapist 

Donna J. Shanahan M.A.

Donna J. Shanahan, MA

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist 
Pasadena, CA 91101

I am a Marriage and Family therapist in private practice. I work with individuals, couples, and families in short and long-term psychotherapy. We work together to explore memories of the relational dynamics of the individual’s family, the feelings those dynamics created for the individual as a child, and how the individual now relates to those feelings and memories.

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