Experts suggest that as many as 5 million Americans age 65 and older suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. What makes the diagnosis so frightening is that Alzheimer’s is a progressive, fatal brain disease that causes changes in thinking, reasoning and memory. Since the body can remain relatively healthy and strong, seniors can live a long time with Alzheimer’s.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s at this time. There are certain treatments and therapies that can help slow the progression of the disease, but their effectiveness varies from one person to the next. The best you can do for your loved one is recognize the signs of the disease as early as possible and develop a care plan and care team. Think of it as intervention.

First, know the top 10 warning signs of Alzheimer’s.

  1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life.
  2. Changes in mood or personality.
  3. Difficulty solving problems, concentrating on tasks or planning a schedule.
  4. Trouble completing familiar tasks at home or work.
  5. Confusion about the time, place, season or passage of time.
  6. Difficulty understanding visual images and spatial relationships such as judging distance or color.
  7. Difficulty finding the words for everyday objects, completing sentences and following conversations.
  8. Misplacing items and not being able to retrace steps.
  9. Poor judgment and decision-making skills.
  10. Withdrawal from social activities.

Since there is no easy test to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease, doctors look for these symptoms and observations by family members. The key is identifying the disease as early as possible so that the medications and therapies that are available can be introduced right away

If your loved one is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, there are steps you can take.

  • Encourage Mental Stimulation. Introduce puzzles and games to keep your loved one’s mind stimulated. Some ideas include word finds, crossword puzzles, music and memory games.
  • Take Care of Long-Term Planning. It’s important to hear your parent’s wishes while they can still communicate them.
  • Build a Support System. The more people involved, the better. Reach out to family, friends and neighbors. Even those who live long distance can help. Finding a support group can be a huge help as your loved one’s Alzheimer’s advances. Many churches and assisted living communities have support groups available. Family Private Care sponsors some support groups; feel free to contact them for more information.
  • Make Living Arrangements. Over time, your loved one will need more care. If they wish to remain in the home, work with an in-home agency to find an experienced, qualified caregiver.

Remember, only a qualified physician can make a diagnoses of Alzheimer’s, so don’t falling into the trap of taking an online assessment and diagnosing yourself or a loved one! There is hope post-diagnosis, so reach out to friends, family and medical professionals for the help you need.