16 Aug Supporting Alzheimer’s Patients and Their Caregivers
Ranked as the sixth leading cause of death among adults in the United States, Alzheimer’s disease affects 6 million Americans and their loved ones. Categorized as the most common type of dementia, Alzheimer’s progressively slows down functions of the brain that control thought, memory and language. While it may begin with mild memory loss, it can seriously affect a person’s ability to carry out daily activities.
Scientists do not fully understand what causes Alzheimer’s disease. However, some studies suggest there are several contributing factors that affect each person differently. These include age, family history and changes in the brain that can begin years before the first symptoms appear.
There is also growing scientific evidence that healthy behaviors – which have been shown to prevent cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease – may reduce a person’s risk for cognitive decline. These include tobacco prevention and control, blood pressure control, cardiovascular health management, diabetes prevention and management, obesity prevention and control, and injury prevention.
Health experts suggest that increasing public awareness and education about the interplay between brain health and physical health can help reduce risk of cognitive decline and improve overall health and well-being. In light of these factors, health care providers, health plans and employers play an important role in making cognitive health a priority in both the community and the workplace.
If you notice early symptoms of dementia, you can be instrumental in assuring that you, your loved one or your co-worker receives the proper medical attention.
The Alzheimer’s Association has outlined the following 10 warning signs and symptoms of dementia:
- Memory loss that disrupts daily life
- Challenges in planning or solving problems
- Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, work or leisure
- Confusion with time or place
- Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
- New problems with words in speaking or writing
- Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
- Decreased or poor judgment
- Withdrawal from work or social activities
- Changes in mood and personality
Early detection matters.
If you notice any of these warning signs of Alzheimer’s in yourself or someone you know, don’t ignore them and schedule an appointment with your doctor.
The challenges of caring for persons with Alzheimer’s and other dementias can also become difficult and overwhelming. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 16 million family members and friends provided 18.4 billion hours of unpaid care to people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias in 2017. About one in three caregivers say their health has declined due to their care responsibilities, and nearly 60 percent rate their emotional stress as high or very high. In addition, some 40 percent of these individuals experience symptoms of depression.
Caring for people with Alzheimer’s can also have a negative impact on employment, income and financial security – with more than half of caregivers reporting to work late, leaving early or taking time off to care for a loved one. Many have also reduced their work hours to part-time, taken a leave of absence or declined a promotion due to the burden of caregiving.
Employers can play a central role in offering information, guidance and supportive resources to people with Alzheimer’s disease and their caregivers through their Employee Assistance Program. These resources can include peer support groups, online support and information resource centers, and other referral services.
Each person’s situation is unique, but many Alzheimer’s patients and their families can benefit from receiving comprehensive information on community health services, common challenges and coping strategies, and practical tips on topics ranging from diagnosis to caregiving.
Employers must have an environment where individuals feel safe reaching out for help when they need it. It is important to communicate that cognitive health is just as important to address as physical health. This requires sensitivity training at all levels of the organization to encourage open communication, as well as awareness programs on how to recognize the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and access the resources available.