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Does My Spouse Have Dementia or Alzheimers?
Jan L. Warner & Jan Collins

Question: My husband has been quite forgetful of late. I was not going to say anything about it because he gets so irritable, but our children have also noticed it and have talked to me privately about how to handle it. He is 75 and in good physical condition.

We are in fairly good financial shape and purchased long-term care coverage several years ago. Is there a way to have him checked out for Alzheimer’s disease without starting World War III?

Answer: While it’s important to keep a watchful eye on aging spouses and parents who may exhibit what may seem to be unusual behavior, it is just as important to learn how to deal effectively with potential problems without causing counterproductive and sometimes irreversible family strife. Unfortunately, well-meaning spouses and children often handle these situations very poorly.

In its most basic definition, dementia is a succession of phases during which an individual gradually becomes more confused. Generally, early warning signs can include memory problems, forgetting words, and personality changes. The individual may have difficulty solving problems and making decisions While Alzheimer's disease is the most recognizable cause, dementia can also result from alcoholism, excessive medication, and physical conditions such as thyroid problems or stroke. These diseases are progressive and degenerative brain disorders that, over time, affect the ability to perform all activities of daily life.

In some instances, depression is misdiagnosed as dementia. While there is no absolute way in which to diagnose Alzheimer's disease until after death through autopsy, qualified physicians have a relatively high success rate by using certain memory and blood tests.

Therefore, the first step in the process should be to try to secure a diagnosis from a qualified physician, but this may be difficult because of denial and other issues. Oftentimes, family members and the caregiving spouse are the worst people to bring up the topic. Therefore, we believe that third persons – unrelated to the family – are often the best people to get the ball rolling.

Because confrontations or panic might bring about aggression, we highly recommend the use of trained, experienced geriatric care managers to at least make an initial determination of the potential for dementia. We believe that third persons who can gain the trust of the individual often stand a much better chance of connecting with the individual than family members who may appear to have ulterior motives. Our web viewers can click here

Currently there is no established method for curing or preventing the onset of Alzheimer's; however, if the disease is diagnosed in its early stages, it may well be that Aricept or Exelon, two of the most prescribed medications, may slow the symptoms. If the side effects can be tolerated, individuals may be able to have a good quality of life and function appropriately for up to another year or more. Without trying this treatment, however, there is no way to predict who will benefit from it and who will not.

Moreover, which medication to use, if either, will vary from individual to individual. Those who are helped are usually in the early stages of the disease.

In the final analysis, individuals with Alzheimer’s disease tend to do better at home in the least restrictive environment. So long as the family can afford it, in-home care through qualified sitters and nursing assistants will gradually have to be increased over time. More restrictive settings – like nursing homes – should be the last stop. The fact that you have purchased long-term care insurance will be a blessing.

But let’s not forget the caregiver who, more often than not, wears out – and sometimes dies – before the spouse with dementia. Through the use of geriatric care managers, a plan can be put in place that will give the caregiver periods of respite that will make the entire process more bearable for all concerned.

Taking the NextStep: Dealing with dementia, like other illnesses that affect the elderly, requires a coordinated plan and a team approach. The family, the physician, a care manager, and other professionals should understand the problems and then try to solve them shoulder-to-shoulder.

Need more advice or help with this topic? Click here to get information about taking the "Next Step".

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Planning Your Future with 20-20 Vision™

Today, more than 36 million Americans are age 65 or over. There are more than 22 million family-member caregivers. Then there are the Baby Boomers. All are grappling with the major decisions that accompany the latter stages of life. This book is for them. Written by two experts with decades of experience between them, it is a comprehensive guide that instructs readers about how to create a plan to deal with all aspects of aging, helps maximize options and ensure wishes are carried out.

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