When a Family Member Has Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer’s disease is one of the most devastating diagnoses a family member can get. According to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, at least 5.1 million Americans have this disease, and the rate is rising. Moreover, half a million Americans 65 or younger have some form of dementia, including forms of Alzheimer’s. If you have Alzheimer’s or have become a caregiver for someone who does, you need to know what to expect and how to cope.

What to Expect

Alzheimer’s typically has mild, moderate, and severe stages that progress slowly over time. A person with the disease lives 4 to 8 years on average after diagnosis but can live as long as 20 more. Alzheimer’s often starts with mild forgetfulness of details like reading material or names, even if the person has just been given the new information. It can progress to difficulty performing in workplaces or social situations.

Moderate Alzheimer’s may involve forgetting details of one’s personal history or details like one’s own phone number or address. Physical symptoms may start to emerge, such as problems walking, speaking, or controlling the bladder and bowels. Sleep patterns may change, and the person may engage in compulsive behavior like hand-wringing. In late-stage Alzheimer’s, the person is vulnerable to infections. He or she requires daily care around the clock and may have no ability to walk, speak, swallow, or care for him or herself.

Coping Strategies

  • Seek support. Much of this may come from your own personal prayer time, church, and local support groups. Turn to clergy or a qualified Christian counselor to help sort through your feelings and concerns.
  • Speak to the person as normally as possible. Reassure him or her of your love and that you know your loved one is still “in there.”
  • Encourage children and teens to ask questions and seek support. Encourage visits, although these should be supervised if you have young children.

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