As the number of people living well into their 80’s has risen, so have the number of people living with Alzheimer’s disease. Today, more than five million Americans are living with the disease. Awareness of Alzheimer’s disease has also increased over the years, though caring for people who have dementia remains difficult.
“Families today are typically smaller, more spread out and more dependent on wage earners working outside the home,” says MedStar internal medicine and geriatric physician Helen Norwood, MD, MedStar Medical Group. “This means there is an increasing necessity for resources for families who have an elderly family member experiencing dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, which is the leading form of dementia.”
Dementia is a neurocognitive (mental processing) disorder affecting perception, memory, judgment or reasoning. Impairment areas include learning, memory, language, executive function, motor function and social cognition, and often become apparent when family members observe behavioral changes and incidences of poor judgment, says Dr. Norwood.
As your loved one ages, Norwood recommends families come up with care plans, and urges individuals to plan ahead to designate a power of attorney. This process should be done sooner rather than later, she says, when the elderly family member can still express their wishes and values.
When Alzheimer’s is diagnosed, patients and their families should seek out reputable and helpful organizations such as the Alzheimer’s Association or a local Center for Aging to assist with information and resources, or finding social workers. Since there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, having resources families can rely on for assistance and information is important.