Living at Home With Young-Onset Alzheimer’s: Creating Your ‘Village’
Reaching out to others
Whether living alone or as part of a family, remaining independent in your home with Young Onset (also known as Early Onset) Alzheimer’s is a critical to living a full and satisfying life. To achieve this, it may be necessary to reach out to family, friends, neighbors and work colleagues, as well as professionals who provide support services such as case workers and social workers.
You may feel awkward and anxious about reaching out to a broader group of people, but you’ll find that friends, colleagues and extended family want to help you stay independent for as long as possible.
While you may feel like you are a burden, their involvement is your life is a way for them to give back. So ask a neighbor to help with the yard when figuring out the lawn mower is too difficult. Schedule regular lunches with your work colleagues and ask them to drive. Call on friends to help you grocery shop and put up food.
Professionals can help you get what you need
Of the types of social workers and case managers out there, you may find that geriatric professionals are the most effective. While you may not be old enough to be considered ‘geriatric,’ these types of professional know the resources to help you stay in your home.
Typically geriatric case managers and social workers know how to assess, plan, coordinate, monitor and provide services for individuals and families who are dealing with memory loss. They will also serve as your advocate where necessary. Case managers and social workers should be able to help you arrange assistance in the following areas.
Areas in which you may need help
• Household duties: cleaning, grocery shopping, and pet care
• Medications: someone to make sure you take your medicines at the proper time
• Medical management: someone to accompany you to doctor appointments, help facilitate communication between you, your doctor and your family, and if necessary, make sure you follow medical orders and instructions
• Communication: keeping family members and professionals informed regarding your well-being and changing needs
• Social activities: providing opportunities for you to engage in social, recreational, or cultural activities that enrich the quality of your life
• Legal issues: finding, and helping you consult with, an elder law attorney who can provide an expert opinion concerning your need for care and your ability to make decisions in your own interest
• Financial issues: reviewing or overseeing bill and tax payment, record keeping, and maintaining of accounts. The person who has a Power of Attorney would be the natural choice for these activities, but it may also be necessary to consult with an accountant.
Putting technology to work for you
To stay independent while living in your home with Young-Onset Alzheimers, embrace technology. ‘Assistive technology’ refers to any product or service that helps you remain independent. It can be something as simple a watch that beeps for medicine reminders, or as advanced as satellite technology to find you if you are lost. Various equipment is available to allow people living at home with Young-Onset Alzheimer’s to remain independent longer. Other devices or systems make it easier for others to give support.
Memory aids include message recorders that remind you to take your keys when you open the front door. Special medication boxes will beep to remind you to take your medicine at the right time.
There are also remotely operated care systems that links sensors around your home to an assistance center by a telephone line. The sensors monitor your movement in your home and alert the center when things might be going wrong. They can also help by automatically turning a light on when you get up in the night.
When you are outside your home, specialized tracking devices can help you feel safer. You carry the device with you, and simply press a button if you get lost.
Stay engaged and structure your day
It’s critical to stay engaged in regular daily activities. The key is to develop schedules and calendars that incorporate exercise, medical appointments, work, meal preparation, pet care, and social engagements. Simple notebooks can contain the information you may need to refer to, and handwritten or computer-printed signs around your house can act as reminders.
Alzheimer’s professionals offer a helpful six-week class to help you develop systems for scheduling and organizing your activities and responsibilities.
It’s also important to keep a list of emergency telephone numbers where you can easily find it. Other information that should be written down includes the location of household meters and shut-offs, medicines and first-aid supplies, and fire extinguishers.
Exercise is now more important than ever
Regardless of your previous habits, regular exercise now takes on new importance for protecting your memory and retaining ability to live independently.
Research has shown that regular physical activity helps maintain and increase the connections between brains cells. These connections are vital to maintain your ability to pay attention, remember details, work through problems, assess information, and plan activities.
Unfortunately, there are no exercise classes at this time specifically for people with Young-Onset Alzheimer’s. The best course of action is to talk to your regular exercise teacher at the gym to let them know what is going on, what to expect, and how crucial exercise is for helping you. You may also find that exercise classes designed for seniors are the right speed for you.
Embrace a healthy diet
Studies have found that vegetables, especially green leafy vegetables and ‘cruciferous’ vegetables like broccoli, can reduce the decline in reasoning and understanding.
The adoption of a ‘Mediterranean Diet’ has been found to slow the progress from mild impairment to full Alzheimer’s disease. This diet includes the high consumption of olive oil, legumes, unrefined cereals, fruits, and vegetables; the moderate consumption of fish, dairy products and wine; and a low consumption of meat.
Studies have also found that foods high in saturated fats and sugars can hurt memory functions. On the other hand, the omega-3 found in salmon and certain other fish has been found to help with memory.