Crawford Care Management

Alzheimer's Disease

What are the chances that you or someone you know will suffer from Alzheimer's Disease? Today there are 4.5 million Americans with this incurable disease, however as many as 16 million of us may contract the disease by 2050 according to Denis Evans of the Rush-Presbyterian St. Luke's Medical Center. The reason for the increase is simply that Americans are living longer than ever.  

Most people know that Alzheimer's disease is a form of dementia, essentially a decline in thinking skills. Symptoms include gradual loss of memory, problems in reasoning and judgment, disorientation, difficulty learning, loss of language skills, and a decline in the ability to perform even routine tasks. Alzheimer's disease advances in stages, though at different rates for each sufferer, and may last anywhere between three and twenty years. Eventually, complete care is needed.

One in ten people over age 65 have Alzheimer's disease while half of those 85 and older have it. Another 19 million family members experience the emotional consequences and financial burdens of caring for or knowing someone who has the disease. Last year, Alzheimer's disease cost working caregivers over $36 billion, while another $25 billion was spent on healthcare and research. Unfortunately Medicare does not pay for long-term care. Nearly half of Medicare beneficiaries who have Alzheimer's disease qualify for Medicaid because their own funds have been exhausted.

What can you do if you know someone who has Alzheimer's disease? Though the disease cannot be confirmed with any test short of an autopsy, there's a major advantage to early diagnosis: time to make quality of life choices and plan for the future. The best thing you can do is talk with your physician, first to rule out other more treatable potential causes of dementia (depression, drug interactions, thyroid problems) and then to fully understand what drug and care management therapies are available to stabilize symptoms, or even slow development of the disease.

While decline in ability may be inevitable, there are definite steps you, as an Alzheimer's sufferer or as a caregiver, can take to better manage the situation.  

  • Maintain overall health - have proper health examinations and seek treatment for other conditions that may only worsen the situation if not addressed. Establish proper nutrition, take care of visual and hearing impairments that develop, ensure proper hygiene and dental care, and maintain strength and endurance through exercise as approved by a physician.
  • Become educated about the disease - learn about stages of the illness, treatments available, and problems that can be anticipated. This information will help you to be more realistic in your expectations of the patient and of yourself.
  • Create a safe, nurturing and accepting environment - allow an adequate amount of freedom in surroundings without becoming confusing or overwhelming. Provide activities that encourage reminiscing and free expression, such as dancing, writing, acting, and music. Listen with your ears and your eyes. Respond with respect, patience, and imagination.
  • Take advantage of community resources when available - home healthcare services, adult day care, meal delivery, cleaning and repair services will help take some of the burden off of you. Make a list of friends and family members you can count on and don't be reluctant to ask for help.
  • Be positive, and practical - Keep the focus on your loved ones' abilities, not on what they can't do. Be as patient and understanding as you can. Take breaks to keep stress levels manageable. As care needs grow, it may no longer be feasible for you to provide the level of care needed. Be realistic about placement in a facility. Get help evaluating choices to find one that offers physical comfort and respects the dignity of individuals.
  • Plan ahead - Patients with Alzheimer's disease face many of the same legal, financial, and healthcare planning issues as the rest of us. Consider the value of drafting a will, documenting wishes for estate planning and asset distribution, advance directives, durable power of attorney for healthcare and financial matters, setting up funding for long-term care, and contingency plans if the primary caregiver becomes incapacitated. Proper planning will also give the caregiver, family, and friends more time for socializing and reminiscing.

Check out the Alzheimer's Association and the Alzheimer's Disease Education & Referral Center web sites for detailed information about this disease, treatment options, and how to talk with your doctor.