Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, consisting of memory loss and a decline in cognitive abilities that worsen over time. According to alz.org, Alzheimer’s “accounts for 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases.” 5.7 million people in the U.S. alone are currently living with Alzheimer’s disease—and that number is projected to increase.
If you’re caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, you are not alone. At least 16.1 million Americans are providing unpaid care that’s valued at over $232 billion. Given these numbers, home caregiving is far from uncommon, but it is by no means easy. Memory care presents unique challenges to those providing in-home care to a relative or loved one. Luckily, there are resources you can turn to for help—like our blog. Below we’ll cover the early symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, as well as tips on how you can keep your home safe and comfortable for your loved one.
Alzheimer’s signs and symptoms
While the first symptoms can vary, there are a few early signs to watch out for if you suspect your loved one may have Alzheimer’s. This disease also progresses in stages: Preclinical, mild (or early-stage), moderate, and severe (or late-stage). Alzheimer’s is most commonly diagnosed at the mild stage.
Early Alzheimer’s Symptoms include:
Memory loss that starts to interrupt daily life
Your loved one’s memory loss may start with regularly forgetting recently learned information, or important dates and events. Repeatedly asking the same questions will become more common, and your loved one may have to rely more and more on memory aids (calendar reminders or notes, for example).
Difficulty with completing familiar tasks and solving problems
If your loved one starts having trouble with things like balancing their checkbook, remembering the rules to a favorite game, or driving to a familiar location it may be an early sign of Alzheimer’s.
Not being able to comprehend time or place
Your loved one may have trouble remembering what day of the week or month they’re in. Forgetting where they are or how they got there is also common.
Misplacing items in unusual places
While we all forget where we put things from time to time, especially as we age, those with Alzheimer’s may take this a step further by misplacing items in unusual places. For example, losing the keys and later finding them in the fridge. If instances like these start happening regularly, it’s time to see a doctor.
Having trouble finding the right words when speaking or writing
If you’re loved one starts calling familiar things by the wrong name, struggles finding the right word for something, or they continuously repeat themselves in conversation this could be an early sign of Alzheimer’s or another dementia related disease.
Changes in mood or behavior
Alzheimer’s and dementia can affect mood as well as memory. Your loved one may start seeming more anxious, fearful or depressed—and even lash out in hurtful ways that aren’t typical. They may also suddenly lose interest in hobbies and activities they used to enjoy.
If a family member or loved one starts displaying any of these symptoms, the first step is to schedule an appointment with a doctor. While Alzheimer’s and dementia cannot be cured, an early diagnosis is important when it comes to symptom relief and helping them maintain a level of independence for as long as possible.
Preparing your home
If you are planning on caring for a loved one at home, it’s important that your house provides a safe and comfortable environment that can promote functionality and a sense of independence. Following these tips will help create this environment:
1. Install locks on windows and doors
Make sure any points of entry and exit from the home are secure, and prevent your loved one from entering potentially dangerous places like the garage or the basement. Installing additional locks on windows or deadbolts on doors can help your loved one stay safe if they’re prone to wandering around the home.
2. Make sure your home is well-lit
A well-lit home will prevent any unneeded trips or falls, and can help keep your loved one less disoriented. Install nightlights in bathrooms and bedrooms, or consider installing motion sensor lights that can illuminate a space as your loved one is moving through the home.
3. Remove tripping hazards
Keep loose cords tucked away, and remove any clutter from the floor. Even throw rugs or low coffee tables can cause a trip or fall, so it’s best to remove these as well.
4. Install grab bars and nonslip mats in the bathroom
In the early stages of Alzheimer’s your loved ones can still perform many hygiene related tasks on their own, but it’s important to provide functional items that will make these things easier. Nonslip mats in the tub or shower and grab bars by the toilet can be helpful and provide additional safety.
5. Install temperature controlled faucets
Alzheimer’s and dementia affects the senses, and can dull reactions to things like hot temperatures. Installing temperature controlled faucets in the bathroom and kitchen can prevent accidental scalding.
6. Remove or lock away any potential hazards
Hazards can include medications, cleaning supplies, and even kitchen knives. Lock these items in a safe place, and use child-safety locks on drawers and cabinets where needed.
7. Label important items or rooms in the home
Labeling the contents of a drawer or cabinet that your loved one uses can be helpful. You can also do the same for important rooms in the home like the bathroom. As the disease progresses, using pictures instead of words will be less confusing.
8. Provide color contrast where possible
Those with Alzheimer’s can become increasingly sensitive to their environment. This disease also affects depth perception and the ability to distinguish between colors. Using contrasting colors within the home can help a loved one perceive space and depth and identify different items. For example, brightly colored dinnerware can help your loved one see where the food is on the plate. Avoid busy patterns or very dark colors, as these can be confusing and often agitate those with Alzheimer’s.
As Alzheimer’s disease progresses, it can become increasingly difficult to care for a loved one at home. Additional support may be needed to continue giving your loved one the best quality of life possible. Loretto can help. Were one of the largest providers of Alzheimer’s and dementia care in the region, offering the first residential program in Central New York created especially for affected individuals at our Heritage Community.