4 Alzheimer’s disease questions answered

September is World Alzheimer’s Month, and this year marks the fifth global World Alzheimer’s Month™, an international campaign to raise awareness and challenge stigma. In honor of the month, Dr. Darren R. Gitelman, senior medical director of Advocate Memory Center, addresses common concerns about Alzheimer’s disease.

1. How would you advise someone who is concerned about memory lapses?
People commonly ignore memory lapses because they are scared, but often there is a simple explanation, so it’s important to get evaluated.

Some change in cognitive ability is normal as we age, but it should not interfere with daily functioning. With age, our brains also become more vulnerable to the effects of medications, illnesses, lack of sleep and other factors. A doctor can help identify what may be contributing to memory loss and identify solutions, such as changing prescriptions.

We can ignore lack of sleep when we are in our 20s, but we cannot ignore it in our 40s, 50s, 60s and beyond. There’s a lot to be said for healthy living and not waiting for a problem to occur in order to make a change.

2. What if some type of dementia is diagnosed?
Even when simple modifications don’t solve the problem, all is not lost.

There may not yet be a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, but there are ways to help people live with it. Providing patients with therapeutic ways to express themselves creatively is one technique. For example, I’ve cared for professional musicians with memory loss and they can still perform.

3. What advice would you offer to someone who is caring for a loved one with dementia?
Dementia stresses both the patient and his or her family. Caregivers must address not only the patient’s physical needs, but also the person’s social and recreational needs. Dementia patients lose initiative and family members hate to see their loved ones sit around all day.

But, it’s exhausting to offer activities on top of providing care. So my first piece of advice for a caregiver is: Take care of yourself. Get the rest, exercise and help you need. If you get sick or depressed, it won’t help the patient.

4. People say, “I promised to care for my husband or my wife in sickness and ’til death.” How can I help a caregiver who won’t ask for help?
They need to understand they can’t do it all themselves. It takes a village.

Patients may also benefit from a day program that offers enrichment and stimulation, and families should not feel guilty about having their loved ones participate.

My second piece of advice is to start planning for the future, as there are likely to be changes over time.

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