November is National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month. At Renown Health, we know that Alzheimer's safety for your loved one is a priority, as the symptoms can sometimes lead to unsafe situations. We asked Dr. Jonathan Artz – a neurology physician with Renown Health and an assistant professor of clinical neurology at the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine – for tips on keeping loved ones safe and secure. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s disease affects safety in various ways, specifically due to body and brain adjustments. These changes can include: Judgment, including forgetfulness Sense of place – getting lost on the way home Behavior – being suspicious or fearful Body difficulty – losing balance Sensing ability – noticeable sensitivity in hearing, seeing or temperature Dr. Artz gives us four major tips to ensure your loved one’s safety as you both navigate this disease together. Watch for Wandering Those experiencing Alzheimer’s disease tend to wander and get lost. Try the following tips to reduce the risk of wandering: Get your loved one an ID bracelet and have them wear it at all times. You can also enroll your loved one in “Wandering Support.” Install door chimes so you know when exterior doors are open. Ask neighbors to call you if they see your loved one out alone. Go with your loved one when they insist on leaving the house. Don’t argue or yell. Instead, use distraction or gentle hints to get them to return home. Discourage Driving Driving can be unsafe for someone with this disease. With this in mind, ask a doctor whether it’s safe for your loved one to drive. For example, on a case-by-case basis, there are certain situations where doctors are required to report individuals with particular cognitive impairments, wherein a form of a driving assessment will be recommended. Limit access to the car. Keep the keys with you or lock them away. Ask an authority figure, such as an insurance agent or a doctor, to tell them not to drive. Adult-Proof Your Abode A simple living space is a safe living space. This means reducing clutter and removing any issues that may pose a safety concern. You may also want to get advice from an occupational therapist (home safety expert). Keep in mind that some changes may not be needed right away. Focus on major safety concerns first. Try the following tips: Add lighting (or glow-in-the-dark tape) to brighten dark areas, including stairways and halls. Use color contrast or texture indicators for dials, knobs and appliance controls. Remind your loved one not to carry items while walking to avoid a fall. Remove sharp objects from drawers and countertops. Avoid using small throw rugs or doormats, as they are easy to trip on. Move frequently used items so that they are easy to reach. Lock away alcohol and tobacco products, as they are not recommended for dementia patients. Install handrails in the shower, tub and near the toilet. Bathroom falls are especially common. Adjust the setting on your hot water heater so water does not scald. Those with Alzheimer’s can lose their sensitivity to temperature. Move and lock up hazardous chemicals and cleaning supplies, such as bleach and insecticides. Disable and remove guns or any weapons. Supervise any medication taken by your loved one. Promote a Positive & Healthy Lifestyle Continually emphasize the strengths of your loved one by promoting participation in meaningful activities, wellness visits and healthy habits to help them improve their well-being. Here are some ways to keep them physically and mentally active: Maintain regular vision and hearing screenings and make necessary adaptations. Establish a routine for daily activities. Encourage participation in self-care and leisure activities. Work with your loved one’s doctor to establish a healthy diet. Ensure proper hydration. It may help to set reminders for your loved one to drink fluids. Encourage regular exercise. Exercise delivers oxygen to the brain, improving brain health. Promote good sleep habits. Good quality sleep can increase overall brain health and has been associated with improving memory, attention and concentration. Resources and support are available with the Renown Memory Disorders Program. Providers within this program are specifically dedicated to treating several different memory-related disorders. Memory Disorders Resources & Support.
Alzheimer’s disease is not normal forgetfulness as we age. Instead, it is a specific form of mental decline. And according to the Alzheimer’s Association it accounts for nearly 80 percent all dementia cases. Natasa Dragicevic, MD, PhD., behavioral neurologist and Alzheimer’s disease specialist with Renown Institute for Neurosciences, weighs in on diagnosing it and the importance of early medical action. How to Diagnose Alzheimer’s Disease In general, the signs of Alzheimer’s disease occur slowly, getting worse over time. For example, forgetfulness is a daily search – for shoes, keys and other misplaced items. Not only is memory affected, but also speech patterns and behavior. There is no single test for Alzheimer’s disease. “Specifically, a neurologist should be the one to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease given differences in presentation,” clarifies Dr. Dragicevic. “And ideally a behavioral neurologist (Alzheimer’s sub-specialist) will be managing the treatment,” she adds. Brain Imaging Diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease involves multiple approaches and medical providers. In short, medical history is reviewed along with a physical exam, lab tests and other diagnostic testing. “A medical workup includes a variety of tests. These include MRI and other brain imaging, as well as neurological and psychological testing. Furthermore, a lumbar puncture is performed to look for markers of the disease,” she states. What Causes Alzheimer’s disease? Although no one knows the cause, researchers think many factors play a role. Uncontrollable risk factors include your genetics and having a family member with the disease. However, the controllable risk factors include: reducing the risk of head injury and keeping your heart healthy. It’s important to realize that high blood pressure, high cholesterol, stroke and diabetes play a role in brain health. Blood loss to the brain causes vascular dementia, leading to long-term blood vessel damage. Symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease Generally speaking, the signs of this disease differ in each person. Yet noticeable behaviors include: • Losing the way to familiar places • Forgetting to pay bills • Trouble finding the right words when talking • Repeating questions • General confusion • Social withdrawal Alzheimer’s Disease – Benefits of Early Diagnosis Equally important, spotting Alzheimer’s disease early allows more time to benefit from medications and possible clinical trials. Likewise, nutrition and exercise changes can be made, increasing blood flow to the body, and perhaps delaying symptoms. Early diagnosis also allows for personal health decisions and quality-of-life conversations to take place. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, these benefits include: 1. Medical advantage 2. Emotional and social comfort 3. Time to plan ahead 4. Cost savings A Brain Supporting Lifestyle “At the present time, treatment is limited,” explains Dr. Dragicevic. “Usually Alzheimer’s is a progressive ongoing disease – any management at this time is purely symptomatic.” However, she states the following lifestyle changes can help support brain health: • New hobbies such as painting, pottery, music classes or learning a new language • Crosswords, puzzles and playing games, such as Scrabble • Brain challenging mobile apps, such as Luminosity • 30-45 minutes of mild to moderate physical activity per day, such as walking • Eating a Mediterranean diet (primarily plant based foods)