Battling Alzheimer's: How To Help Your Loved One

March 1, 2017

Do you know someone who confuses medications or gets lost while driving? Maybe you notice changes in their appearance or behavior? If so, it may be time for them to see a doctor.

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These are all signs of Alzheimer's disease and should not be ignored, says Dr. Andrea Schaffner, a geriatric specialist at Middlesex Hospital. If you think something is wrong, it probably is, she says.

Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia, and it causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior. Symptoms often develop slowly, getting worse over time.

Schaffner says half of those 85 and older have dementia, and most of them have Alzheimer’s.

“This is not normal aging,” she says.

Schaffner says people are living longer, increasing their chances of getting dementia. It is an underdiagnosed disease, she says, adding that dementia is a more socially acceptable term than Alzheimer's.

Both Dr. Schaffner and her colleague, Dr. William Zeidler, medical director of Middlesex Hospital's Hospice and Palliative Care, say you should encourage friends or family to see a doctor if they have difficulty processing information, if they routinely get lost or if they have trouble completing routine daily activities, such as combing their hair or cooking. Seeing a primary care doctor is a good place to start, but seeing a geriatrician or a neurologist may be needed, they say.

Dr. Schaffner says helping a loved one with Alzheimer's is very difficult and time consuming, and she says part of her job is to support family members as they make tough decisions. Can they drive or cook safely? Should they move to an assisted living facility? Dr. Schaffner says money is also a big factor, because nothing helps families pay for an assisted living facility.

"They need to find a partner in care," Dr. Schaffner says of family members.

Like Dr. Schaffner, Dr. Zeidler also recognizes that difficult decisions need to be made as people battle Alzheimer's, and he has some general advice.

He says to support your loved ones and allow them to indulge in things that give them joy. "You want to be with them in their moment," he says.

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Dr. Zeidler also adds that you should be careful not to take the changes they are going through to heart. "When they forget who you are, don't take it personally," he says.

Is there a way to prevent getting Alzheimer's? No, but there are a few things you can to decrease the odds, Dr. Zeidler says. Keep using your mind, stay physically active and make sure you continue to socialize as you get older, he says. The more socially isolated you are, the more likely you are to get the disease, he says.

For more information about Alzheimer’s disease, visit the Alzheimer’s Association’s website at www.alz.org. The association has a Connecticut.

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