Alzheimer's Disease – What You Need to Know


The Law Of… Understanding And Coping With Alzheimer's

Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia and typically affects the elderly, but is also known to occur in middle aged people. It is characterised by progressive degeneration of the brain resulting in deterioration of mental ability, resulting in loss of memory and premature senility.

Alzheimer's can be devastating, but it's vital to understand how to deal with such a stressful disorder – from both a lifestyle and legal standpoint – whether you are the sufferer or someone caring for a person with Alzheimer's.

What Are The Symptoms Of Alzheimer's?

There are several symptoms of Alzheimer's and as a progressive disease, they develop over time, gradually growing more severe. The typical symptoms are:

  • Memory loss
  • Challenges with planning or problem solving
  • Difficulty with familiar tasks
  • Confusion with time and place
  • Difficulty understanding images and spatial relationships
  • Problems with speech, substituting incorrect words
  • Misplacing items
  • Decreased or poor judgement
  • Withdrawal from social activates, mood swings.

What Are The Common Misconceptions?

Many people do not have an understanding of Alzheimer’s until it begins to affect a loved one. This has given rise to quite a few basic misconceptions surrounding dementia.

These include:

  • Memory loss is a natural part of getting older. It's perfectly natural for people to suffer occasional memory issues as they get older, like forgetting a new acquaintance's name for instance. However, Alzheimer's causes the brain tissue to continually degenerate, and as such the associated memory loss is frequent and often more noticeable, for instance, difficulty recalling a family member’s name.
  • It's not fatal. Unfortunately, Alzheimer’s is a degenerative disease which attacks an individual’s brain cells and for which there is no recovery. The reduction of cognitive brain activity controls who a person is, not to mention their ability to think, eat, speak and move.
  • Only old people develop Alzheimer's. Possibly the most common misconception as many awareness campaigns surrounding the disease often feature images of the elderly or care homes. People aged 30-50 can suffer from Alzheimer's, known as early-onset Alzheimer's.
  • Treatments are available to stop the progression of the disease. At present there is no known cure for Alzheimer's, nor is there a way to slow or stop the progression of the disease. FDA approved drugs are available which temporarily slow symptoms, but this is only for 6-12 months and only affect half the people who use them.

It is important that everyone is aware of the implications of Alzheimer’s as these misconceptions can be frustrating to sufferers and the families of sufferers.

Living With Alzheimer's

A common trait of dementia is a decline in a person's ability to function or perform basic tasks. This can lead to a sense of vulnerability. The most important thing is to seek care, and to understand that support and reassurance is available in many forms.

It is important for people with dementia to understand that they are not alone, with roughly 850,000 people suffering from Alzheimer's in the UK. Support groups are available, as well as more informal versions of these groups like café mornings.

How Do I Care For Someone With Alzheimer's?

Caring for someone with dementia, especially in its later stages, is something for which you should seek training or guidance in order understand how to properly give care.

Professional assistance or care is not always readily available to everyone, so understanding a few basic concepts could help with the care process:

  • Scheduling. Planning each day and building a routine is vital in order to minimize stress and confusion. Recognising when a person is most alert is important so that medical appointments or bathing can be appropriately scheduled. People with Alzheimer's are still able to follow routines, and making it as simple as possible is advised.
  • Patience. People with Alzheimer's need to move at their own pace and often require multiple breaks. As mentioned above, scheduling is key to account for time taken.
  • Provide alternatives. While fewer options will be easier for a person with Alzheimer's, it's still important to give them a choice. Preparing two outfits and asking which they prefer, or letting them decide between a hot or cold drink for example. Depending on how capable a person with dementia is, you can offer more freedom in the choices. This will make the person feel more involved which is important for keeping the person in good spirits.
  • Reduce distractions. Turn off the TV and avoid noisy places, especially during times of the day when a person with Alzheimer's needs to focus. Reducing distractions during meal time or conversations will make it easier for the person to converse.
  • Be Flexible. Unfortunately, a person with Alzheimer's will only become more dependent over time. Remaining flexible will be key in terms of limited frustration on both ends. For example, if a loved one insists on the same outfit each day, consider buying several copies of the same outfit to ensure clean clothes are always worn.

What Are A Person With Alzheimer's Legal Rights?

On the legal rights of a person with Alzheimer's, James Urquhart-Burton, Partner, comments:

"Those with Alzheimer’s and other mental health problems receive certain protections under the law in relation to safeguarding and deprivation of liberty and there are often questions over mental capacity, as a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s does not necessarily mean that a person lacks the capacity to make certain decisions."

"Any decisions that are made by relevant authorities on behalf of an individual who lacks mental capacity must at all times be in their best interests."

"It is also possible for individuals to plan ahead by asking a solicitor to draft their Will or appoint individuals they trust under a Lasting Power of Attorney to manage their property and affairs or health and welfare. It is equally important for those who need to be cared for to investigate what benefits they might be entitled to and to query their eligibility for other sources of long term care funding, such as from the local authority or the NHS through NHS Continuing Healthcare Funding."

At Simpson Millar we offer a range of legal services and we are able to work closely together to offer a holistic service to people with Alzheimer's. Our specialist Community Care solicitors can offer support with issues of capacity and best interests decision making while our Private Client and Care Homes specialists can assist with issues around estate planning, powers of attorney or long term care funding.

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