In early stage Alzheimer's Disease, the patient may be spending a lot of emotional energy trying to compensate for and hide his/her memory problems. He is beginning to have more trouble processing complex thoughts (holding several ideas in memory long enough to consider them all). This may cause him to avoid making any decisions or he may make rash decisions just to avoid the stress of analyzing issues he can't retain in his working memory.
There may be changes in spending patterns,because calculation skills are among the first to be lost with Alzheimer's disease. When you observe a person with many small bills stored or crumpled up in the bottom of the purse and the person always pays with a twenty or fifty dollar bill, it may be because they have lost the ability to make proper change.
The person who was always on time for appointments may be losing the sense of time and comes very early or late if they remember the appointment. People tend to lose the ability to read or draw a clock face correctly.
Risks associated with driving include lack of attention to cars around them and reduced respnse time.
Ideas to assist the person in the early confusion stage of Alzehimer's include:
Keep a small credit limit on the credit card they use (person may be prey to scams) - later you may need to give them expired cards only
Locate insurance policies, deeds, other valuable papers and make copies to replace originals, put originals in your safe deposit box (people often either hoard or throw away random papers - even checks or money)
Encourage the use of a central place for notes, phone numbers, reminders. Get one large yellow pad and encourage the person to use only that one place for notes. Caregivers have seen the importance of making a notebook with sections labeled: emergency info, medical history, community resource info, Power of Attorney, physician appointments, where passwords to computer and bank accounts may be found, friends who can help with short notice, labeled photos of family, medications taken and on what schedule, church affiliation and pastor name, banker's name and branch, info on special dietary needs or preferences, etc.
Eliminating clutter in the environment will go a long way toward streamlining the life of a person with memory loss. The less decisions the person has to make, the better he will function. Be aware of what patterns the person enjoyed before this illness and try to concentrate on facilitating the continuation of these with modifications. Following a routine every day usually helps people adjust to this new part of their lives together.
Be aware that life moves more slowly for the AD patient now and they will take longer to get dressed, to complete a task, to make a decision, to finish a project. Things that were easy 10 years ago are now a challenge and this could be very frustrating which could cause emotional outbursts to hide their loss of skills.
Recognize that Alzheimer's is a disease of the brain, the person is losing the ability to analyze, plan, remember and respond with consideration of the consequences. There will be times when they seem "like their old selves" and those are the days to gather information.
Quizing people daily to assess their mental state or trying again and again to explain something is not helpful. As the disease progresses, you will need to take the blame for things you did not do, resist arguing even though you know you are right and walk away from confrontations. The ill person likely will not remember the reason for the argument but he may remember the emotion attached and become more anxious.
The most important skills for a caregiver are probably the ability to maintain a sense of humor and to know how to ask for specific help from family and friends. Caregiver support groups like the one that meets the 2nd Monday of each month at Statesboro first United Methodist Church at 1:30pm are very useful for many caregivers. Try it this month!
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