What you should know about Alzheimer’s

What Is Alzheimer’s?

Alzheimer’s disease is an irreversible, progressive brain disease that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills. In most people with Alzheimer’s, symptoms come on gradually, first appearing after age 60.
The first sign of Alzheimer’s disease is usually mild forgetfulness. At first, someone may have trouble remembering small things, like what they did yesterday. They may get confused easily. Some people get very good at hiding signs for a long time.

Eventually, they may forget how to do important, everyday things, like cooking meals, getting dressed or using the toilet. They may not recognise even close family members. This can make it very hard for someone with Alzheimer’s to look after themselves. How bad and how quickly this occurs is different in each individual. The time from onset to death is usually very long – from 5 to 20 years.

Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia

People with Alzheimer’s exhibit symptoms of dementia. The symptoms described above are exactly the same for dementia. That can be confusing, so just remember that Alzheimer’s disease causes dementia symptoms but dementia does not cause Alzheimer’s disease. It is virtually impossible to tell what has caused a person’s dementia until after the person has died.

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See also: “Alzheimer’s – Dementia: Signs and symptoms


Recommendations for treating people with dementia


Remove disturbing objects, such as mirrors if the person doesn’t recognise himself or herself in it.
Alert neighbours if the person wanders.
Give them a Medic-Alert bracelet with name, address and telephone number.

Never leave a memory-impaired person alone in a parked car in case they wander.
Never leave a confused person alone in a bathtub or shower in case they burn themselves or get frightened.
It may help to leave a night light on, either in the room or the hallway, in case the person wakes and gets out of bed at night.


Be prepared to orientate the confused person often – have a white board with the day, date and season written on it.
Simplify tasks and requests. Ask only one thing at a time. Keep sentences short and repeat as necessary.
Don’t confront or corner the person as this will make them anxious. Distract them from whatever is upsetting them.
Asking questions of people can make them anxious and upset if they don’t know the answer – limit questions.
Always talk to the person by standing straight in front of them so that they can see you clearly (make sure, however, that you don’t stand too close and overcrowd them).

Always explain what you are doing and give simple accurate information.
Never talk about them or whisper if they are in the same room.
Be patient and watch your voice tone and body language. Even people with severe dementia can correctly read aggressive or angry body language.
Be outwardly calm even if you don’t feel it.


Develop a routine each day. This will make the person less anxious. On the other hand, this has to be flexible as people with dementia want their needs met immediately and can’t remember to wait.

Make them feel useful by getting them to do what they can, eg, peel potatoes, wash up or set tables, but do not expect them to be able to achieve everything you ask them to do.

Gentle exercise or supervised walks are useful to help sleep patterns.

People with dementia often respond to old time music or pets.

Maintain good physical health.

The person with dementia should avoid alcohol, too much coffee, tea or excess sugar in the diet.

Make sure the person drinks sufficient fluid and doesn’t get constipated.

Question the need for sedative medication, especially if it is being increased or additions made. Too much medication or drugs that interfere with each other’s actions cause many complications.