I Have Alzheimer's Disease
It is important to understand what is happening to your brain, and what to expect as the disease progresses. Talk to your healthcare provider or other dementia experts such as the Alzheimer's Association or Alzheimer's Tennessee to learn more about managing your disease. Some information about dementia can be found by clicking here.
Although there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, a variety of treatment options exist to help maintain mental function, manage behavioral systems, and slow down symptoms of the disease.
There are several drugs that are approved by the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) used to treat those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. There are currently two drug classes that treat Alzheimer’s disease: cholinesterase inhibitors and
n-methyl D-aspartate antagonist. You should talk to your healthcare provider about the indications, potential benefits, and side effects of these medications.
Cholinesterase inhibitors include Razadyne® (galantamine), Exelon® (rivastigmine), and Aricept® (donepezil), which treat symptoms associated with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease. Namenda® (memantine) is an n-methyl D-aspartate antagonist that is used to treat moderate to severe Alzheimer’s disease.
Sleep aids, anti-anxiety medications, anticonvulsants, and antipsychotics may be used to treat symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, but should only be taken after consulting with your healthcare provider.
Learn more about medication options by clicking here.
Adopting a Healthy Lifestyle
Exercising, eating healthy, and avoiding injuries is important across the lifespan. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle can assist in easing the disease progression and improve your daily life.
Exercise: There are many benefits to exercising including a reduced risk of falls, depression, and stress, leading to overall improved physical health. Studies have shown that exercises that are good for your heart are good for your brain.Talk to your healthcare provider about exercises that might be best for you. Learn more by clicking here.
Healthy eating: Although not a treatment, a heart healthy, balanced diet such as the Mediterranean diet may help keep your heart healthy and protect your brain. The Mediterranean diet includes foods such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, fish, nuts, and healthy fats. Choosemyplate.gov has helpful resources including recipes, eating healthy on a budget, and specific tips for healthy eating as we age.
Emotional and Psychological Health
Receiving a diagnosis can lead to a variety of emotions including fear, anger, and sadness, but there are ways to handle these emotions and help you and your loved ones dope with these feelings. Joining a support group or confiding in a trusted friend or family member can provide validation in your feelings and can assist you in identifying ways that might help you cope. If you are experiencing signs of depression, talk to your healthcare provider about additional treatment options. Some signs of depression may include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mod
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Decreased energy or fatigue
- Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities
- Feeling restless of having trouble sitting still
- Thoughts of death or suicide
Learn more about the signs of depression by clicking here.
As Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias progresses, the brain continues to work less over time, leading to a change in a person’s behavior and personality. Changes in personality and behavior will vary from person to person, but some common changes may include, but are not limited to, wandering, hiding things, paranoia, physical violence such as hitting or grabbing, and being easily angered. Although these behaviors can be common, there may also be underlying health conditions that contribute to these behaviors such as new medications, infections, pain, and lack of sleep.
To help manage these behaviors, there are modifications that can be made to help you and your caregiver cope with the changes. Some of these changes might include:
- Creating a schedule or routine
- Ensuring a safe home and social environment
- Keep activities simple
- Ask one question at a time
It is important for you and your caregiver to note these changes and talk to your healthcare provider about any changes you are experiencing.
Understand your diagnosis
Due to the complexity of Alzheimer’s disease and other related dementias, it can be hard to understand what is happening to your brain and how it will impact you throughout the rest of your life. There are many national and local subject matter experts that can assist you with understanding your diagnosis. Individuals and organizations that may be able to assist you in understanding your diagnosis include your primary care provider, neurologist, gerontologist, the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s Tennessee, and the National Institute on Aging.
Form a support system
Receiving a diagnosis can spur a multitude of emotions including fear, anger, sadness, and can be overwhelming. While there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, individuals with the disease can live well with the appropriate treatment and
support system in place. Support systems can come in many forms, including support groups, friends, family, or hired caretakers. While there are many options for support, what is most important is that you can rely on these individuals to discuss your feelings with and assist you with daily tasks such as cooking meals, managing medications, and getting to your doctor appointments, as appropriate. As the disease progresses, these support systems may change and you may need additional support systems.
Start planning for the future
After receiving a diagnosis, it is important that you start planning for the future before the disease progresses. Prior planning will allow you to decide what healthcare services you want, what you will need to stay in the home, what healthcare options exists, and will help take some of the burden off of your loved ones that would be making these decisions. When planning for the future, there are several items to take into consideration including the following:
- Advanced care planning
- Insurance options
- Long-term care planning
- In-home care
- Palliative Care
- Safety (home, on the road, daily task)
The unique trajectory of Alzheimer’s as a progressive disease that slowly diminishes cognitive function and an individual’s ability to guide their care. Ideally, an advance directive should be considered and completed before or soon after diagnosis. Learn more about how to start this important conversation to ensure your wishes and goals are honored when you can no longer speak for yourself. Learn more about completing an advanced directive by clicking here. Still need more information? Honoring Choices Tennessee coalition has information about the importance of advanced care planning and has the model form available on their website.
The unique trajectory of Alzheimer’s as a progressive disease that slowly diminishes cognitive function and an individual’s ability to guide their financial and legal affairs. Planning for the legal and financial future is critical for those with Alzheimer’s disease and their families and caregivers. Ideally, you've planned certain legal and financial matters in advance, such as:
- Completing a will
- Having a power of attorney
- Arranging for long-term care
Receiving an Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis can be overwhelming and naturally cause a significant amount of uncertainty for both the individual and their family members. For this reason, it is important to ask questions to help develop a better understanding of how the disease is likely to affect you and your family members. You will want to ask questions about your specific diagnosis, the disease progression, ways to live well with the disease, treatment options, side effects of treatment, and about clinical trials. Some common questions to ask your health care provider can be found here.
Before each visit, it is important for you and your loved ones to note any changes in symptoms, negative side effects to treatment, and any questions you may have related to your daily activities, symptoms, future treatment, and disease progression. Be sure to bring a list of medications with you, including any over the counter medications and vitamins. It is also important to note any complementary health products and practices you are utilizing such as acupuncture, massage therapy, herbal supplements, homeopathy, and chiropractic or osteopathic manipulation.
Due to the complexity and progression of Alzheimer’s disease, the resources needed to care for those with Alzheimer’s disease are extensive. To cover some of the services and treatment, you will need to explore your current insurance
coverage and assess if additional coverage is needed or will be needed in the future. There are pubic and private insurance options for which you might be eligible for.
Public Insurance Options
If you are 65 years of age or older, have certain disabilities, or have end stage renal disease, you are likely eligible for Medicare. Medicare is comprised of:
Medicare Part A: Hospital Insurance
- Inpatient hospital
- Inpatient skilled nursing facility
- Some home health services
Medicare Part B: Medical Insurance
- Physician services
- Outpatient care,
- Durable medical equipment,
- Home health services
- Many preventive services
Medicare Part C: Medicare Advantage
- Medicare-approved private insurance companies that provide all Part A and Part B services and may provide prescription drug coverage and other supplemental benefits
Medicare Part D: Prescription Drug Benefit
- Medicare-approved private insurance companies that provide outpatient prescription drug coverage.
More information about Medicare can be found by clicking here. In addition to Medicare, you may also be eligible for Medicaid, a federal and state healthcare cooperative for low income adults, pregnant women, and children. Eligibility for Medicaid varies from State to State, but states must cover services such as doctors’ visits, hospital services, mental health services, medications, and preventative care. To learn more about TennCare (Tennessee's Medicaid program), visit their website by clicking here.
Private Insurance Options
You may decide that you want to pursue additional private insurance options such as long-term care insurance, long-term disability insurance, or other types of insurance to ensure your care is covered as the disease progresses.
Need Assistance with Insurance?
The State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) for Medicare participates assist with one-on one counseling and help to people with Medicare, those who might be eligible with Medicare, or caregivers needing additional information. Call 1-877-801-0044 for more information. You may also consult with the Area Agency on Aging and Disability in your region for assistance in determining what your next steps might be based on your current insurance situation.