Being faced with an Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis can naturally cause a significant amount of fear and uncertainty. Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia that impairs memory, thinking and behavior.
Symptoms typically worsen over time and may become severe to the point that daily living is impaired. If you or someone you love is facing this diagnosis, you’re probably wondering how to get the best care and live a fulfilling life despite these new challenges.
Alzheimer’s disease most commonly affects American adults ages 65 and older, with 10 percent of people in that age range having Alzheimer’s.
The 2018 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures report found nearly every minute, someone in the United States develops Alzheimer’s disease. There were an estimated 5.7 million Americans of all ages living with Alzheimer’s in 2018, including 5.5 million people ages 65 and older.
When you’re meeting with a doctor to discuss an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, be sure to bring a list of questions you have for the doctor, a list of medications that you’re currently taking, something to write down the doctor’s insights on, and another party, like a friend or relative, if possible. This ensures you can write down responses and access them later, and that you give the physician everything he or she needs to make sound recommendations.
Here are five questions to ask so that those involved stay safe and protected.
1. Should We Hire Care Providers or Make Alternative Living Arrangements?
Depending on how Alzheimer’s has progressed, the patient may have serious difficulty walking, swallowing and speaking. Driving may also pose a danger to the patient and others on the road. A physician may recommend that the patient be under 24/7 care, in the form of home healthcare or by living in a physician-supervised home.
If costs are a concern, consider selling your life insurance policy. Selling one’s life policy can generate an upfront cash payment and free up money that had been budgeted to pay future premium payments to instead cover immediate health care costs. Consider researching your state’s Government Alzheimer’s Disease Plan for more resources about the costs associated with the disease.
2. How Has the Alzheimer’s Progressed?
Some types of dementia, like Alzheimer’s, have stages of progression that are fairly predictable. This informs patients and caregivers of what to expect and how to prepare for symptoms that might be on the horizon.
In addition to care options, knowing how the disease has progressed and what to expect is helpful to make decisions about medical treatment, finances and legal designations.
3. What Medications Can Help?
There are a couple of medications approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration that may help lessen the symptoms of Alzheimer’s. Currently, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s or medication that can stop it from progressing, but some medications may be able to help treat symptoms like confusion or memory loss.
It’s important for your doctor to know what medications you’re currently on, as well as your full medical history, so that the patient is only prescribed safe and helpful medicine. It may be possible that the patient is currently on medications that are making symptoms worse, as well.
4. What Overall Health Improvements Can Be Made?
In addition to prescription medication, non-drug treatment approaches like positive changes to diet, exercise and mental activity can be beneficial for those with Alzheimer’s. Living a healthy lifestyle is important for anyone. The patient should discuss with their doctor what their lifestyle is currently like and see where improvements can be made.
Also, if the patient is currently working and wants to continue to work, that should be part of the discussion. In some cases, it will be OK to continue working for a certain amount of time.
5. What Can We Expect from Future Treatment Assessments?
Ask the physician how treatment will be evaluated to determine effectiveness. There may be a certain amount of time the doctor recommends waiting before making an assessment.
There may also be times where the patient should contact a doctor right away, regardless of when the next check-in is scheduled. For example, if the patient is experiencing side effects from medication, there should be an easy way to identify those and get in touch with a doctor.
Be Open, Honest and Curious
When navigating the journey of Alzheimer’s disease, don’t be afraid to discuss anything and everything with the doctor. The physician is there there to help make life and caretaking safe and manageable for everyone involved. Remember to discuss:
- Current and potential medications to take
- Caretaking options
- Alzheimer’s symptoms and progression
- Healthy lifestyle choices
- Treatment evaluation and progression
Alzheimer’s is widely researched, so there might be clinical trials the patient could participate in, as well. Continue to have an open dialogue with the physician to ensure treatment is optimal at every stage.