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Alzheimer’s disease: what to look out for and how to get the support you need

Picture of a happy elderly woman with her cheerful carer outdoor springtime

Nearly 1 in 10 people over the age of 65 have dementia, with Alzheimer’s being the most common form of dementia today. While it is recognised as a national health priority by the Australian government, many people are still vague about how dementia and Alzheimer’s disease relate to one another, and what to do if a family member is displaying the symptoms.

What is Alzheimer’s disease?

Officially, the Australian Alzheimer’s research foundation describes Alzheimer’s disease as a progressive, degenerative neurological condition caused by nerve cell death resulting in shrinkage of the brain. Unfortunately, it is not reversible, and its effects include impaired thought, speech and memory.Confusion still remains today around Alzheimer’s and dementia and how they differ and relate to one another. The two are interlinked, however just because a loved one is displaying signs of dementia, does not mean they will have a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s.

What is the difference between Alzheimer’s disease and dementia?

According to a representative from Dementia Australia, this is one of the most common questions they receive. They state that essentially, dementia is the umbrella term for a large group of illnesses, and Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. Dementia has also been described as a set of symptoms, including the symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s, such as impaired thinking and memory.

Although Alzheimer’s is a common cause of dementia, it is not the only cause. Dementia can also be caused by other diseases including Parkinson’s. That’s not the only difference between the two, however. Unlike Alzheimer’s, in some cases Dementia can be temporary, such as when it is associated with a drug interaction or vitamin deficiency. Alzheimer’s is also not a ‘normal’ part of the ageing process, and early onset Alzheimer’s can develop in people as young as thirty. Dementia is often used as a general term when talking about the cognitive decline associated with ageing.

What are the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease?

It is not unusual to become forgetful as we age. So, how do you know when simple confusion might be a sign of something more? Alzheimer’s Association describes a number of symptoms of Alzheimer’s, alongside what might be considered a common sign of ageing. Here are some things to look out for:

Memory loss, particularly when it’s disrupting daily life. Forgetting names or dates, but remembering them later, might be considered common for people who are ageing. People with Alzheimer’s might forget recently learned information frequently, ask the same questions over and over or need prompts to complete everyday tasks.

Losing track of time and place. Someone with Alzheimer’s might forget where they are or how they got there, as compared to someone forgetting what day of the week it is, but being able to work it out.

Difficulty speaking or joining a conversation. Alzheimer’s Disease can cause someone to lose track in the middle of a conversation, repeat themselves or begin to switch words around.

Losing things. Alzheimer’s Disease symptoms may include forgetting where things belong, or putting everyday items back in unusual places. They may also find it hard to retrace their steps.

Personality or mood changes. While a normal sign of ageing (or a certain personality trait) might be frustration when things are not done in a particular way, someone with Alzheimer’s can easily become fearful, aggressive or anxious. They may also display signs of depression.

Difficulty problem-solving or completing tasks. Someone with Alzheimer’s might have trouble with routine jobs like following a recipe, paying bills, driving or using the oven. Concentration can also be impacted.

Poor judgement. Alzheimer’s Disease can cause someone to act out of character or display poor judgement. This can present itself in a number of ways. You may notice a decline in grooming, or poor decisions when it comes to their safety, or money.

How is Alzheimer’s disease diagnosed and treated?

If you are concerned that a family member is displaying some form of dementia, visit the doctor as soon as possible. Unfortunately there is no one test to diagnose Alzheimer’s, and a combination of medical history, neurology, cognitive tests, brain imaging and blood tests will be required.

There’s no treatment that can halt the progression of Alzheimer’s. However, there are treatments available that can improve quality of life and some medication that can temporarily improve the symptoms of dementia. It’s important to seek a diagnosis as soon as possible, to ensure you have the right support systems in place.

Where can I access Alzheimer’s support?

If you’d like further information, Dementia Australia runs a National Dementia Hotline and webchat and there are a number of services and programs available to support workers with dementia and their carers.

For people looking for support to live independently, amongst the thousands of independent workers offering their services on are a number of nurses and care workers with specialist experience and training in dementia care.

Search for workers in your local area who have the knowledge and training to help you and your family to cope with the diagnosis and begin working with you to implement strategies to make life easier. There are also OTs, speech and language therapists, and registered nurses who can support you in a number of different ways. .

If you’re receiving government funding in the form of a Home Care Package, you can also use this funding to find and hire the right support for your family through the Mable platform.

Find someone today who can help you or a loved one to maintain independence while living with Alzheimer’s. Search your local area now.

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