Everything you need to know about living well with Alzheimer’s disease
We are here to help explain the types of Alzheimer’s disease, what causes Alzheimer’s disease, and the common Alzheimer’s disease symptoms you may experience.
Healthcare Pro can also provide practical Alzheimer’s disease help and support. We are experts in daily living aids and equipment for use at home, which can help those living with long term health conditions, and their carers. On this page, you’ll also find links to other sources of help for Alzheimer’s disease, including Alzheimer’s disease support groups and charities that can advise you if you’re living with Alzheimer’s disease.
If you, or a family member, have received an Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis, it is important to remember that you are not alone. In the UK, there are over 520,000 people with Alzheimer’s, affecting many people and their families. As such, there are various Alzheimer’s disease support groups available to you.
Alzheimer's disease is a neurological condition, which means it affects the brain and nervous system. It is a type of dementia, named after Doctor Alois Alzheimer who first recognised and wrote about the condition. Alzheimer’s disease symptoms occur due to damage happening within the brain, which becomes more progressive and often leads to a worsening of symptoms over time.
The disease develops at different rates, so everyone’s prognosis and experience of Alzheimer’s is different. Many people with a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease are often able to live full lives for a number of years but may require an increasing amount of support from family and carers as the disease develops. There is currently no cure, but there are treatments for Alzheimer’s disease that help slow its progression and manage symptoms. There is a lot of research going on across the world to better understand the condition in order to find further treatments and hopefully, one day, a cure.
For further information, see the Alzheimer’s Society factsheet called ‘What is Alzheimer’s disease?’
Alzheimer’s disease changes the way that the brain functions. It develops because the brain begins to shrink in certain parts, which is known as atrophy. Scientists believe that this is caused by plaques building up between nerve cells and nerve cells that are dying, known as ‘tangles’. Studies have also shown that Alzheimer’s patients have lower levels of chemicals in the brain such as acetylcholine that help transmit signals. It is not yet clear what causes this process to begin in some people and not others but this degenerative activity results in Alzheimer’s disease symptoms developing, due to the areas of the brain that are affected.
It is apparent that certain factors can increase a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. For example, the disease mainly affects people over the age of 65 years, although some people experience early onset Alzheimer’s. Others who have had severe head injuries may also be at a higher risk. In some families, there does appear to be a genetic factor, with each generation developing the disease, but this is being researched further.
Scientists believe that whilst genes do play a role, lifestyle is the main factor for increasing or decreasing a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. For example, Alzheimer’s disease triggers may include a combination of poor diet, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or having other medical conditions such as diabetes, stroke and heart disease. It is suggested that eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, drinking alcohol only in moderation, and avoiding smoking can all help reduce the risk.
To find out more about Alzheimer’s disease causes and what triggers Alzheimer’s disease, see the Alzheimer’s Research UK website.
Alzheimer’s Association also provides an interactive Brain Tour that may help provide an Alzheimer’s Disease explanation.
Most people are diagnosed with an age-related Alzheimer’s disease, as increasing age is the biggest risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s. However, in rare cases, some people may be diagnosed with a genetic type of Alzheimer’s known as Familial Alzheimer’s (or “FAD”). In this section, we explain the differences and provide some useful links for those who are looking for more specific information.
• Late-onset – by far the most common, late onset Alzheimer’s occurs in people aged 65 years or over and, as yet, no definitive cause has been identified
• Early-onset / Young-onset – fairly rare, this type only affects around 5% of people with an Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis and symptoms appear around age 40-50 years. For more information on young-onset Alzheimer’s or other young-onset dementias, see the Alzheimer’s Society website
• Familial (FAD) – very rare, this type of Alzheimer’s is genetic and runs in families. Most people will notice symptoms in early middle age, even as early as their 30s-40s. To find out more about how genes play a role in all types of Alzheimer’s disease, visit the Alzheimer’s Research UK website
Alzheimer’s disease is progressive, meaning it is likely to begin with milder symptoms that gradually worsen often over a number of years. It’s important to remember that each person with Alzheimer’s will experience the condition differently, so what you read below is only a rough guide. Some of the early symptoms could also be linked to other health conditions so, if you’re concerned, be sure to pay a visit to your local GP who will be able to carry out further tests.
• Mild to moderate memory loss, for example, forgetting about things that have happened recently, misplacing things, and having difficulty thinking of words and names
• Repetitive speech, for example, asking a question again and again
• Other cognitive difficulties including finding it hard to make decisions
• Feeling or appearing to be confused or anxious
• Increased memory loss, for example, forgetting names of close family and friends
• Increased confusion
• Disorientation, for example, wandering and having a confused sense of time and date
• Difficulty performing everyday tasks such as eating, preparing food, going to the toilet and getting dressed
• Speech and language difficulties such as slurring
• Feeling frustrated and having mood swings
• Paranoia and hallucinations
• Changes in personality and having fewer inhibitions
• Weight loss or weight gain due to complete change in dietary habits (eating too little or eating too much)
During the later stages, the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease may become much more difficult to manage. The symptoms listed above may become worse and happen more frequently. There are additional symptoms that may develop including:
• Dysphagia (difficulty swallowing) causing problems with drinking and eating
• Significant mobility difficulties
• Speech loss
Some people require help and support from family or professional carers during the middle to late stages of Alzheimer’s and are likely to need full-time care when the disease progresses. It is important to remember that every person with Alzheimer’s disease will experience the condition differently and symptoms develop at different rates. Many people can live well with Alzheimer’s with a very gradual progression of symptoms, whereas others may find the disease progresses much more quickly.
If you are concerned that you, a family member, or close friend may be experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, we recommend you visit your GP to discuss these concerns. Some of the early symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease could also be symptoms of other healthcare conditions, or from medications you may be taking, but it is advisable to get these checked promptly and professionally.
For more information about Alzheimer’s disease symptoms, see the NHS website.
Read on to find out more about Alzheimer’s disease treatments, and how the condition affects daily living.
If you or a family member have been given an Alzheimer’s Disease diagnosis, you are likely to have concerns about the future and about how daily life will be affected.
In this section, we consider aspects such as Alzheimer’s disease products that may assist with daily activities, exercises for Alzheimer’s disease, diet for Alzheimer’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease treatment you may be offered.
An Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis will inevitably affect a person’s life and is likely to affect the lives of the people closest to them as well. After being diagnosed, a person with Alzheimer’s may have lots of different feelings: shock, worry, anxiety, fear, all of which are perfectly normal. There is a lot of Alzheimer’s disease support available to you. In the UK, over 850,000 people are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and dementia, so you are not alone, even though your experience will be unique. There are many ways to make daily life easier and to live well with the condition. For more information on what to do after a diagnosis, visit the Alzheimer’s Society website.
Daily activities can become challenging for a person with Alzheimer’s as their condition progresses. Simple tasks that you carry out without much thought may become more difficult, for example – showering and bathing, getting dressed, and preparing/consuming food and drinks. It is likely that some people will need help with daily tasks such as these at some stage, from their spouse, close family or friends, or perhaps a professional home carer. If you are providing care or support to someone with Alzheimer’s, you may wish to read the NHS guide ‘Caring for someone with dementia at home’ which provides practical advice about helping with daily tasks.
If you or a family member are finding daily tasks difficult, you may wish to have an assessment by an Occupational Therapist (OT). You may be entitled to receive this for free through your local council’s social services department. An OT is able to observe you at home and assess the difficulties you are having, which can lead them to recommend different ways to do certain tasks or suggest equipment called ‘daily living aids’ that may help.
Healthcare Pro has over 70 years’ experience providing daily living aids and Alzheimer’s disease products, including assistive technology and telecare, which are devices designed to support independent living. Below, we explain how a variety of tasks and activities can be made easier through the use of daily living aids or assistive technology.
It is important to remember that providing the right Alzheimer’s disease products can help make life easier, but the person using it needs to be able to do so competently and safely, and must be able to remember how to use it.
For help choosing the right equipment to suit your needs, you may wish to download the Disabled Living Foundation fact sheets. Alternatively, contact Healthcare Pro’s team of Occupational Therapist product advisors, who may be able to recommend Alzheimer’s disease products to you.
Telephone: 0345 121 8111 (Monday to Friday 8:30am to 4:00pm)
Email: [email protected]
PLEASE NOTE: our Product Advice Team can only give advice about equipment and products which may help you to live more independently. They cannot give any advice on medications or treatments for symptoms of this condition.
There is no cure as yet for Alzheimer’s disease, but research is continuing and making progress in understanding the condition better. There are drug treatments for Alzheimer’s disease available which can help manage symptoms and may help slow the progression of the disease. AChE inhibitors are commonly prescribed, including for example, rivastigmine, donepezil, galantamine and memantine.
There are also drug-free treatments and types of care that can help a person to live well and reduce the impact of Alzheimer’s disease symptoms. Talking or psychological therapy can help with mental health issues such as depression or anxiety. Person-centred care is often considered a successful way to help ensure a positive wellbeing. This focusses on tailoring care to the particular person and helping them to participate in hobbies whilst interacting with others.
For more information about treatment for Alzheimer’s disease, see the NHS website.
It is still possible to continue to work if you have been given a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. It may help you to continue to work for as long as you feel able, in order to retain a sense of independence and wellbeing. It is advisable to inform your employer about your diagnosis, once it is confirmed, and in some professions, this is a clause in your employment contract. Your employer is legally required to make changes or ‘reasonable adjustments’ for you in your work or workplace to enable you to continue your job. For more advice on working after you have been given an Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis, the Alzheimer’s Society provides a downloadable leaflet.
As most people are aware nowadays, a healthy, balanced diet positively affects our health in many ways. It is important for a person diagnosed with Alzheimer’s to eat such a diet, to maintain a healthy weight and reduce the impact of some symptoms. For example, sugary food can affect energy levels and lead to worse mood swings.
Many people believe that a ‘Mediterranean diet’, high in antioxidants from fruit and vegetables and low in saturated fats and meat, is an ideal diet to help reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s. There is some research that supports this.
As Alzheimer’s progresses, it is not uncommon for a person to have difficulty eating and drinking. Their physical ability to eat or drink independently may be affected, and they may need assistance with this. Some people may find that their appetite or food taste changes, for example, someone who has always loved vegetables may decide they don’t like them at all. Eating a healthy, nutritious diet can also help prevent other illnesses developing, so it is really important. Dehydration is also a risk factor, particularly for someone in the later stages of Alzheimer’s disease, who may be unable to communicate that they are thirsty.
For further information on diet for Alzheimer’s disease, visit the Alzheimer’s Society.
There is a lot of press and debate regarding the use of supplements to ward off the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease or to reverse or slow its development. Many of these supplements have been researched, with inconclusive results:
• Curcumin (from Turmeric)
• Coconut oil
We recommend you talk to your GP before taking any additional supplements for Alzheimer’s disease.
Keeping up a regime of exercise for Alzheimer’s disease may seem challenging, but it is important for a person to get regular exercise for as long as possible. Any physical activity counts as exercise, so a short walk each day is highly beneficial. Regular exercise helps improve mood, sleep, self-esteem, strength and balance. It may also slow down the rate at which the brain declines. A GP or physiotherapist may be able to advise how to exercise if you are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
There's a lot of help for Alzheimer’s disease, including support for carers and for those with an Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis.
We hope this guide has been useful to you, if you have Alzheimer's or know someone who does. Receiving a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease can be difficult, for both the person with the condition and those around them. Many people find that getting the right information and support at the beginning of their journey can help. There are many other useful sources of information and Alzheimer's help. Here, we list a range of other online resources. Alzheimer's is an increasingly common condition and as such, there is a wealth of advice and support available in the UK. Many people find that sharing their experiences with other people can help them deal with their disease, so we also list some online communities where you can talk to others in a similar situation to yourself
Alzheimer’s Society Talking Point Forum – an online community for people affected by Alzheimer's or other types of dementia
Dementia Forum – a global community for people to share experiences of all types of dementia
Alzheimer's Caregiver Support Facebook Group – a global Facebook community of people who care for other people with Alzheimer's
Age UK – the leading UK charity that supports older people, with information on living well with dementia, caring for someone with dementia and making plans for the future
Alzheimer's Association – information on Alzheimer's and caring for someone with Alzheimer's, as well as a helpline, safety service, support groups and online tools to develop an Alzheimer's action plan
Alzheimer’s Research – a wealth of information about Alzheimer's and other dementias, including research projects
Alzheimer’s Society – the leading UK charity supporting people with Alzheimer's and their families, which provides information on all aspects of living with Alzheimer's, a national dementia helpline, online community, and a range of local support options including dementia cafes, groups and peer support schemes
Dementia UK – a charity that provides information on dementia as well as a nurse-led helpline
NHS – source of medical information on all aspects of Alzheimer's and related conditions
Although we always try to explain things as simply and as clearly as possible, sometimes it’s necessary to use the correct medical terminology. Medical terms are often known for being tricky to pronounce and if you’re not an expert in the subject, they can also be a little difficult to understand. Below, we’ve put together a list of terms used on this page along with a brief explanation of what they mean to help make your understanding of Alzheimer's disease as straightforward as possible.
‘Acetylcholinesterase inhibitors’ is a collective name for drug medications that reduce the breakdown of the neurotransmitter chemical Acetylcholine, which can help slow the symptoms of Alzheimer’s or dementia
A chemical neurotransmitter that is released by nerve cells in the brain and has many functions, including aiding learning and memory
Degeneration of brain tissue including neuron loss
Related to the brain, nerves or spine
Clumps of protein that form in the brain causing degeneration
In Alzheimer’s, tau protein in the brain collects to form twisted strands that disrupt the transportation of cells