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1st Step to Better Alzheimer’s Care: LEARN


As I mentioned last week, dementia is a set of symptoms caused by damaged brain cells. The damage results from any one of more than 50 different medical conditions.

Alzheimer’s is a disease. It is the leading cause of dementia, particularly in people over age 55.

Whatever the cause of a person’s dementia, early diagnosis is important. This info graphic reminds you why:

Dementia vs. Alzheimer’s? Why does it matter? Dementia is a symptom of damage to brain cells caused by 1) diseases that attack brain cells, 2) oxygen or nutrient blockages, 3) malnutrition or dehydration, 3) substance abuse or toxins, 4) brain injury or 5) infections of central nervous system. Alzheimer’s accounts for 60 to 80% of dementia cases. Early diagnosis is important because 1) some forms of dementia can be halted or reversed with early treatment, 2) doctors can better treat the underlying causes of dementia, 3) doctors can relieve symptoms & improve quality of life and 4) a person can make plans & discuss wishes while thinking clearly & communicating effectively. Seek your doctor’s advice whenever symptoms get in the way of daily life. A skilled physician can diagnose Alzheimer’s with a high degree of accuracy.

The 50+ medical conditions that can be causes of dementia are best treated following early diagnosis. This info graphic reminds you why.

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

If your inbox is anything like mine, it’s full of valuable information. I flag the most important and hope to get back to in my spare time.

This Beginner’s Guide to Alzheimer’s Care is full of that sort of information.

My goal is to make your life easier – not to add to your TO DO list (or your inbox).

So I’ll be summarizing each of the 5 LEEPS (Learn, Empathize, Embrace, Partner, Seek) with a “Big Picture.” I’ll publish a substantial blog post one week, then a summary info graphic the next.

  • If you’ve had a chance to read the post, the info graphic will provide a quick review.
  • If you haven’t had time to read the post, just glance at the highlights.
    • If they seem important, click through to the post and read or bookmark it.
    • If not, stop worrying about falling behind. Just continue the series with the following week’s post.
  • We’ll keep the Beginner’s Guide to Alzheimer’s Care on our website, even after the series is complete. Consider it a resource to which you can return whenever needed.

Of course, the series has just begun! Be sure to subscribe so you won’t miss our next post: Step 2 – Empathize.


1st Step to Better Alzheimer’s Care: LEARN

Dementia is a set of symptoms caused by damage to brain cells.

Alzheimer’s is a disease that causes dementia.

Not all dementia symptoms are caused by Alzheimer’s. Getting an accurate diagnosis is the first step to better care.

1st Step to Better Alzheimer's Care: LEARN

1st Step to Better Alzheimer’s Care: LEARN

A Sign that Something’s Wrong

More than 50 different medical conditions cause dementia. It can be triggered by

  • Disease that attacks brain cells
  • Blockage of the brain’s oxygen or nutrient supply
  • Poor nutrition or dehydration
  • Substance abuse or toxins
  • Brain injury
  • Infections of the central nervous system

What are the Symptoms?

Seniors often are forgetful. They pause to find the right word or to remember a name.  They realize they had a “moment.” The word or name comes to them later.

That’s normal. Thought processes slow with age. Senior moments are not necessarily symptoms of dementia.

It’s NOT normal to forget things you’ve just learned – not remember them later – and not realize that you’ve forgotten. It’s not normal to repeat the same questions over and over, unaware that you’ve already received an answer. This sort of forgetfulness is more than a nuisance. It gets in the way of normal, everyday life.

Dementia is more than memory loss. It also involves serious difficulty with at least one other major function of the brain:

  • Planning, problem solving or judgment (cognitive skills) – particularly struggling with tasks that need to be done in order, like paying bills, making meals or getting dressed
  • Communicating – especially finding and using the right words (language skills)
  • Attention or concentration
  • Understanding what you see (visual perception)

The most troubling difficulties are with social relationships. In groups and busy surroundings, people living with dementia often become confused, anxious and agitated, or unusually quiet. They may start to avoid people, or even seem paranoid.

Alzheimer’s is the Leading Culprit

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common of the causes of dementia, especially in people over age 55.

Alzheimer’s often begins with damage to the part of the brain that affects learning. Its first symptom is short-term memory loss: trouble remembering something you just learned.

Damage to the brain occurs long before the first symptoms appear. Scientists don’t fully understand how. They think plaques and tangles play an important role. Plaques are protein fragments that build up between cells. Tangles are twisted protein strands that form inside cells.

Most people develop some plaques and tangles as they age. People with Alzheimer’s have more than usual. Scientists believe plaques and tangles block critical communication pathways between nerve cells. They “clog up the works,” interrupting the supply of oxygen and nutrients, preventing the processing and storage of information. Cells are damaged and can’t do their jobs. Eventually, they start to die.

Today, Alzheimer’s is an irreversible, progressive disease. Someone with Alzheimer’s eventually experiences most of the dementia symptoms described above. Symptoms worsen over a period of years. Damage to the brain gradually makes speaking, walking and swallowing hard. Eventually, the body can’t perform critical mental and bodily functions.

If It’s Probably Alzheimer’s, Why Do I Need a Diagnosis?

Alzheimer’s is the most common of the causes of dementia – but it isn’t the only one.

While Alzheimer’s results in permanent, worsening damage to the brain, a few causes of dementia don’t.

[su_note note_color=”#f2fbff” class=”standout”]Early diagnosis is important because

  • Some forms of dementia can be halted – or even reversed – WITH EARLY DIAGNOSIS AND TREATMENT.
  • Doctors treat the underlying causes of dementia. Alzheimer’s is treated differently than thyroid disease, vitamin B12 deficiency or a drug reaction.
  • Early diagnosis and treatment can help caregivers make people living with Alzheimer’s more comfortable and improve their quality of life.
  • Early diagnosis permits a person to make plans and discuss his or her wishes while they can think clearly and communicate effectively.[/su_note]

If Not Alzheimer’s, Then What?

The following list isn’t complete, but it should be long enough to convince you to discuss any symptoms of dementia with your doctor.

Causes of memory and thinking problems that often can be slowed OR reversed with early treatment include:

  • Depression
  • Medication side effects
  • Alcohol abuse, including Korsakoff syndrome
  • Metabolic disorders, including thyroid disease and vitamin deficiencies

A small percentage of medical conditions linked to dementia sometimes are slowed or reversed with early treatment. These include:

  • Mild cognitive impairment (MCI)
  • Normal pressure hydrocephalus (NPH)
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Slow-growing brain tumors

Medical conditions linked to irreversible, progressive dementia include:

  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Vascular dementia (Multi-infarct dementia (MID), occurring after a stroke)
  • Dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB)
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Frontotemporal dementia (also called Pick’s disease)
  • Huntington’s disease
  • Posterior cortical atrophy (PCA)
  • Central nervous system infections (i.e., Cruetzfeld-Jacob disease, AIDS, syphilis)

Good Caregivers Make Great Private Eyes

You shouldn’t play doctor. But you should play detective.

Keep a list of symptoms. When do they occur?

  • What were the first symptoms you noticed?
  • What time of day are they worst?
  • What was going on just before you noticed them?
  • Were symptoms triggered by stress, changes in diet, sleep disturbances, poor health or new medications?

The more you know about dementia, the more helpful your report will be.

Reputable medical websites provide great clues. We’ve used the following as sources for this article, and we’d recommend them for further reading:


[su_note note_color=”#f2fbff” class=”standout”]Ask Your Doctor

The more sudden and severe the onset of dementia symptoms, the quicker you should see a doctor. Seek advice as soon as ANY symptom interferes with normal, everyday life.

Start with a trusted internist, geriatrician or other primary care doctor. He or she should conduct a full medical exam to rule out various causes of dementia. Don’t be surprised if you’re referred to a specialist for further evaluation. That specialist might be a neurologist, a geriatric psychiatrist or a psychologist.

A skilled physician can diagnose Alzheimer’s with a high degree of accuracy. But not all are comfortable delivering upsetting news, especially without the promise of an effective treatment or cure. According to the Alzheimer’s Association’s 2015 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures, fewer than 50% of people with Alzheimer’s disease or their caregivers recall being told of their diagnosis.

If your doctor seems unable or unwilling to commit to a diagnosis – or doesn’t offer helpful suggestions for managing your daily challenges – seek a second opinion. You deserve to be fully informed as you try to understand changes, weigh your care options and plan for the future.


Keep Learning!

Early diagnosis can point you to the right resources. Valuable websites, books, help lines and support groups are just a quick click, call or drive away. They provide tips for caregivers, detailed descriptions of related medical conditions, updates on new developments and trials, referrals and opportunities for respite.

We can lend a hand, too. Just keep following this series for more useful information.

Was this a lot to absorb? You’ll like our next post – a simple info graphic reviewing the highlights: “Dementia or Alzheimer’s? Why Does It Matter?” Subscribe so you won’t miss it!

Beginner’s Guide to Better Alzheimer’s Care

Beginner's Guide to Alzheimer's Care

Beginner’s Guide to Alzheimer’s Care

Alzheimer’s disease twists life into a tangle.

Things don’t look, sound, smell, taste or feel quite the same. Remembering new information is tough. Following familiar routines is challenging.

Some people with Alzheimer’s grow quiet to hide their confusion. Bewildered, they may shrink away – or suddenly strike out in anger.

As caregivers, we don’t know how to react. We want to help, but sometimes we seem to make things worse.

I want to show you how people living with Alzheimer’s experience the world. Let you see it through their eyes. Feel it in their skin. Walk it at their slower pace. So you can provide more comforting care.

More than Memory Care

As caregivers, we have a lot to learn about how Alzheimer’s affects the brain – and, with it, the entire mind and body.

Alzheimer’s isn’t just forgetful. It’s “unreasonable.” It chips away at the ability to plan or solve problems. It makes simple jobs overwhelming, especially sequential tasks – those that have to be done in order:

  • Planning for dinner.
  • Keeping a checkbook.
  • Ordering at a restaurant.
  • Making a sandwich.
  • Getting dressed.
  • Completing a bedtime routine.

Poor balance, coordination and judgment eventually make it hard to get around. Stairs, area rugs, stoves and traffic present new dangers. Weakened muscles and motor skills create problems, too – buttons and zippers complicate a trip to the toilet, favorite foods might be choking hazards.

The world is a bit unsettling. With new sensitivities, normal temperatures or noises can seem unbearable. The eyes and brain deceive us – what we see isn’t what we get.

Worst of all, Alzheimer’s makes it difficult to find the words to communicate fear or pain – or to be comforted by logical explanations.

Feeling at Home with Alzheimer’s Care

We travel with our loved ones through this altered world. We try to support their changing abilities, preferences and needs along the way.

You probably began your caregiving journey at home – Mom’s or Dad’s. Maybe the trek has carried your loved one into your own home. In time, as things continue to change, you may find a different setting suits you and your loved one.

Whatever the setting, both of you always should feel at home.

“At home” is an emotionally charged phrase. It may remind you of a sense of obligation to tackle caregiving responsibilities as a family, within your own house.

But “at home” also reminds us of the most important promise we give our loved ones. We pledge to do our best to make them feel safe, dignified and at ease  – as they felt in their own homes before dementia came to stay.

Understanding Alzheimer’s

I’d like to help you and your loved one feel more at home with better Alzheimer’s care.

That’s why I’m introducing a new series for our A Better Way blog: The Beginner’s Guide to Alzheimer’s Care.

  • It’s full of useful information for any family member or professional who provides hands-on care.
  • It can help you evaluate alternative settings if and when the demands of in-home care become more than you can handle.
  • It supports you as an advocate for your loved one and a partner with his or her professional caregivers.

[su_box title=”Follow Us!” box_color=”#ffffff” title_color=”#071F55″]You live a busy life – we’ve made it easy for you to receive updates to this series.

  • Check in at (You can catch a glimpse of day-to-day Alzheimer’s care in our own community there, too.)
  • Subscribe to receive our email newsletter. We promise not to sell your information – and never to pester you with spam. But we will let you know when we’ve published new posts and other useful information.
  • Join the conversation in the social spaces we’ve created for caregivers.
  • Have other questions? Need more information? Our Community Liaison, Courtney Minter, has broad network of providers and a comprehensive knowledge of memory care resources. She offers skilled and sensitive counsel in your search for answers. Feel free to email her.

However you choose to keep in touch, be sure to watch for our next installment, Step 1: Learn.



Senior Moments: Early Signs of Alzheimer’s?

As we age, we have short memory lapses and other “senior moments.” Misplace the car keys. Pause to remember a name. Wonder why we were looking in the closet.

We know we forgot something. In a moment or two, we remember.

That’s normal. Thinking slows with age.1 These senior moments are not early signs of Alzheimer’s.

Senior Moments – Early Signs of Alzheimer’s?

When Should You Worry?

Senior Moments - Early Signs of Alzheimer's-infograph

Senior Moments – Early Signs of Alzheimer’s?

Alzheimer’s is the leading cause of the set of symptoms2 known as dementia. Dementia is caused by damage to brain cells. Head injury, toxins, disease and infection can cause dementia. Interruption of the brain’s oxygen, fluid or nutrient supply can cause dementia, too.

Memory loss is dementia’s best-known symptom. Dementia is not the mild forgetfulness of senior moments. It’s a major disruption of the brain’s ability to think and learn.

The earliest sign of Alzheimer’s is trouble recalling something you just learned. You have a long talk with a new neighbor. An hour later, you forget everything she said. You may not remember meeting her.

Other early signs of Alzheimer’s?

  • Frequently losing track of the date and time of day, or of where you are.
  • Forgetting you’ve asked the same question 3 times in the last 5 minutes.
  • Needing extra reminders to keep regular routines.
  • Struggling with tasks done in a particular order (e.g. getting dressed, making meals).

The symptoms get worse.

  • Mom shows up late to regular appointments. One day, she doesn’t show up at all. She calls, hopelessly lost. She needs help finding her way back home.
  • Dad complains he can’t balance his checkbook. You find unopened bills and overdraft slips jammed in a drawer.
  • Grandpa spends the day in his pajamas. He’s lost track of his sleep schedule – AND his meds and meals.

More Than Memory

Memory loss is a symptom of dementia when

1. It gets in the way of normal, everyday life AND

2. It’s joined by new difficulties with

  • Planning, problem solving or judgment (cognitive skills)
  • Communication – especially using the right words (language skills)
  • Attention and concentration or
  • Understanding what you see (visual perception)

Doctors diagnose dementia if severe difficulties with at least two of the brain’s major functions interfere with daily life.3

If someone is dealing with dementia, you’ll probably notice sudden changes in his or her relationships with others. Has a loved one become uninterested in social activities?

  • Does she avoid gatherings of friends and family? Remain unusually quiet rather than join in?
  • Does he loose track of group discussion? Seem confused about the topic of conversation? Grow anxious, angry or agitated? Seem easily slighted, almost paranoid?

These might be early signs of Alzheimer’s.

Call Your Doctor

The more sudden and severe the onset of symptoms, the more important it is to see a doctor.

Why bother, if the diagnosis most likely is Alzheimer’s’?

  • More than 50 medical conditions cause dementia or memory loss.4 Your doctor should rule out the others.
  • Some forms of non-Alzheimer’s dementia can be halted – or reversed – WITH EARLY DIAGNOSIS AND TREATMENT.
  • Doctors treat the underlying causes of dementia. They address Alzheimer’s differently than thyroid disease or drug reactions.
  • Medical treatment may relieve some of your loved one’s troubling symptoms.
  • Trained professionals can show you how to give better, more comforting care.
  • Early diagnosis permits a person to make plans and discuss his or her wishes – while thinking and communicating clearly.

Skilled physicians can diagnose Alzheimer’s with a high degree of accuracy. If your doctor seems unable to explain the cause of serious memory loss, seek a second opinion. Look for answers and additional support from your local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association.


1 “Forgetfulness: Knowing When To Ask For Help.” National Institute on Aging. US Department of Health and Human Resources, 23 Feb. 2015. Web. 27 Feb. 2015.

2  “What Is Dementia?” Alzheimer’s Association. Alzheimer’s Association, n.d. Web. 11 Feb. 2015.

3  Ibid.

4  “What’s Causing Your Memory Loss? It’s Not Necessarily Alzheimer’s.” HelpGuide.Org. Harvard Health, n.d. Web. 27 Feb. 2015.

5 Alzheimer’s Disease: The Basics Brochure – What It Is and What You Can Do (2012). Alzheimer’s Association. Alzheimer’s Association. Web. 27 Feb. 2015.

Why Fido is the Best Valentine

Enjoying the Health Benefits of Pet Ownership

Enjoying the Health Benefits of Pet OwnershipOur Operations Manager, Jeannine, drives the most popular member of our management team to work each day. Jake is a big, black goldendoodle: half golden retriever, half poodle, and all heart. He makes the rounds of all our homes. He attends to each resident.

A whistle from Bill, and Jake quietly sits for his morning pet. A word from Toni, and Jake is at her side, guarding the patio from chipmunks. He can start a somber household laughing by patrolling the yard for squirrels. He senses when someone isn’t feeling well and quietly stands watch at the bedside.

Jake has all the time in the world to visit. He listens quietly, head on lap, with a soulful look. He offers no unwelcome advice or criticism.

A Valentine Who Feels the Love

Our residents form deep, comforting attachments to Jake. Studies show that “pets can serve as important sources of social support, providing many positive psychological and physical benefits for their owners.”1 People with pets are happier. They feel closer to the other people in their lives. Pets are like a salve, soothing feelings of isolation and rejection.

A chat with Jake gives Mom a reason to stay alert and engaged. People who stop to pet Jake interact with her, too. She feels connected – valued – cherished.

Studies confirm the powerful health benefits of pets – of stroking them and looking into their eyes:2

  • Increased oxytocin levels.
  • Decreased pain and stress levels.
  • Calmness and a desire to make social connections.

A comforting relationship with a pet is especially beneficial for someone living with the confusion of dementia. No one is better at helping you to forget your worries and to live in the moment.

A Valentine Who’s Good for Your Heart

Worried about Dad’s heart health? The American Heart Association believes that owning a pet, particularly a dog, can reduce his risk of heart disease by keeping him more active.3

Pets like Jake can alert us to changes in our loved ones’ health, too: a drop in blood sugar levels, an approaching seizure.4

[su_column size=”1/2″] Jake's-Valentine[/su_column][su_column size=”1/2″]A Valentine Who Makes You Smile

The best health benefits of pet ownership? The smiles. Scientists will tell you it’s all about dopamine and serotonin.5 Deep down, without the chemistry, we all know everyone feels better with a smile.

So find a way for Mom to connect with a pet. Do it in a way that’s fair to the pet.

If Mom can’t care for herself, don’t expect her to take care of a dog. Don’t expect her caregivers to provide professional canine care, either.

Be creative and flexible.

  • Can you bring YOUR pet along on visits?
  • Can Mom form a bond with a shared pet, like Jake?
  • Can you arrange visits by volunteers with therapy pets?[/su_column]


A Valentine for Caregivers

When you help Mom or Dad connect, you share in the health benefits of pet ownership.

And in the smiles.

For Valentine’s Day, we’re bringing caregivers everywhere a smile. We’ve filled a Pinterest board with pictures to bring you a twinkle, a grin or an outright guffaw.  Visit “A Flower and a Smile for My Valentine” when you need a lift.

Follow Care Haven Homes’s board A Flower & A Smile for My Valentine on Pinterest.

Happy Valentine’s Day!



1 McConnell, Allen R., and Christina M. Brown. “Friends With Benefits: On the Positive Consequences of Pet Ownership.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 101.No. 6 (2011): 1239-252. American Psychological Association. Web. 9 Feb. 2015.

2  Olmert, Meg Daley. “”DOG GOOD”” Web log post. Psychology Today. Sussex Publishers, LLC, 5 May 2010. Web. 09 Feb. 2015.

3 “Owning a Pet May Protect You from Heart Disease.” American Heart Association. 03 Feb. 2014. Web. 09 Feb. 2015.

4 Hyman, Mark, MD. “Vitamin P: The Secret to Health and Longevity.” The Huffington Post., 26 June 2013. Web. 09 Feb. 2015.

5 Wenk, Gary L., Ph.D. “Addicted to Smiling.” Web log post. Psychology Today. Sussex Publishers, LLC, 27 Dec. 2011. Web. 09 Feb. 2015.

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