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What is Alzheimer’s Disease?

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia, which is the collective name for symptoms associated with damage to the brain. It is a progressive disorder affecting memory, thought process and behaviour.

 

Alzheimer’s disease is characterised by the presence of abnormal protein deposits in the form of amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles (or tau). These cause nerve cell damage in the brain, interrupting connections between neurons responsible for transmitting messages within the brain and to the rest of the body.  Essentially, the proteins wrap around and stick to the neurons blocking the communication signals between them.  The damage initially takes place in the part of the brain responsible for memory but as it progresses can affect all areas of the brain

 

The early stages of Alzheimer’s disease


Sometimes the early signs of dementia can be confused with stress, menopause, side effects of certain types of medicines, other health problems, or the onset of old age. A person might start to forget about recent events or ask questions repetitively. They might struggle in finding the right word or forget where things are. There may also be mood changes, or increased anxiety.

 

There are many reasons why these things might start to happen but, if these occurrences get more frequent, or concerning, then it’s a good idea to consult a GP. They can carry out a series of checks to find out what might be causing the symptoms and refer you to a specialist if this is required.

 

In addition to the early signs of Alzheimer’s disease mentioned above, people may also become less likely to want to try new things and struggle with facial recognition. These symptoms will increase with heightened anxiety so it’s important to find out what it is that is making the person anxious and work on alleviating this, because reducing anxiety can reduce symptoms.

 

Our Wayfinders are available to support people from the very early stages of Alzheimer’s disease and this includes pre-diagnosis. If you need help, advice or support, you can speak to a member of the team on 01243 888691.

 

Progression of Alzheimer’s disease

 

As Alzheimer’s disease progresses, the symptoms mentioned above start to become progressively more challenging and the person is likely to grow increasingly more confused and disorientated. They may experience paranoia, problems with speech and language and they may also experience hallucinations.

 

In time, more serious issues can present themselves. The person may have difficulty eating or swallowing leading to weight loss, they may experience incontinence or struggle with balance and mobility.


Once these symptoms start to affect their daily life, overall wellbeing or general safety, this is when additional support with everyday living is often required. 


However, throughout the whole dementia journey, there are lots of ways in which you can help someone with Alzheimer’s disease to live well.

 

How to help someone with Alzheimer’s disease

 

When you are with someone who has Alzheimer’s it is important to stay calm and not correct them when they don’t remember something or get something wrong. Always agree with how the person perceives things to be, as confusing them can make them feel anxious and cause symptoms to worsen.


In one example, a Wayfinder was supporting a lady with Alzheimer’s and when she was very anxious, she was unable to gauge her own age and felt she was much younger. When her husband walked into the room, she didn’t recognise him, but she didn’t feel threatened or fearful because she thought the older man was her dad and started calling him dad. When a younger man walked into the room, again, she wasn’t worried because she thought he was her husband - in fact the younger man was her son.


Her husband and son went with her interpretation of who they were and did not correct her. Her anxiety reduced and within a short time she started calling her husband by his name and recognised the younger man as her son.


By learning about dementia, you can help someone to live well with the disease, whether they have Alzheimer’s, or any other one of the 200 different types of dementia.


In addition to learning how to communicate with someone who has dementia, there are also ways in which you can help them to live well, such as through, physical activities and those which are designed to promote the best possible cognitive health and happiness. You may also wish to help your loved one plan for the future and if so, we can help guide you on this.

 

Get in touch today for help and support

 

For more help and information or to find out more about how to support a person living with dementia, get in touch with a member of our Wayfinding team, on 01243 888691. You could also attend one of our dementia training sessions, or if you are a carer for someone who is living with dementia, you could join one of our support groups. We look forward to hearing from you.

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