Many people in the early stage of Alzheimer’s continue to live alone and can complete many day-to-day tasks as normal. however, Alzheimer’s is a progressive condition, so it’s important to look ahead to when performing daily tasks will be more difficult. Adopting new strategies such as planning out each day, automating things like bill payments, and accepting more support from friends, family, and professionals can help make life with Alzheimer’s more comfortable, and help you feel more prepared as the condition progresses.
What happens in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease?
During the early stage of Alzheimer’s, it’s very likely the person living with dementia will be able to continue to do many of the things they’re used to doing every day. This may include going to work or volunteering, driving as normal, and keeping up with their usual diary commitments.
However, as the disease progresses, things are likely to get more difficult for them and their wider family members. As they begin to experience memory loss and problems with judgment, they’ll likely need more help and precautions to stay safe and maintain a good quality of life.
Early-stage Alzheimer’s is likely to culminate in memory lapses. While everyone’s experience is different this can mean –
- Forgetting conversations
- losing or forgetting where they’ve left things
- Not turning up to a regular appointment, or missing birthdays and anniversaries
- Forgetting the time of day
- Forgetting the names or words for things
- Asking the same questions over and over
- Finding it hard to make decisions, or making bad decisions
- Becoming set in their ways
- Avoiding social activities
Ultimately, at the early stage of the disease, they’re likely to be able to live daily life fairly independently, but will be more vulnerable than they used to be when left alone. If you’re supporting a loved one in these early stages, your role will likely largely be to provide companionship and emotional support as they adjust to their diagnosis and to help them plan for the future.
Living with early-stage Alzheimer’s
If you live alone and would like to continue doing so, there are some steps you can take to make everyday life a little easier.
Plan your days
It can take some time to build this up as a habit, but writing down a to-do list for each day, and marking appointments or events on a printed or online calendar can help you keep track of dates and help you feel in control. You may also find it useful to have a designated place in the house to keep important everyday items, such as your keys, phone charger and wallet, or leave memory aids such as sticky notes by the front door.
Use a dosette or weekly pill box to keep track of your current medications
These boxes have individual compartments for each day of the week – often split into AM and PM too. Some have alarms to remind you to take your medication, or you may wish to set up a reoccurring alarm using a regular alarm clock. If you’re worried about forgetting to fill your pillbox, you may wish to have a trusted friend or family member fill it for you at the start of each week.
Set up direct debits
Most utility companies or services now offer direct debits as their standard way to pay and keep track of bills. However, if you have a prepayment metre for your gas or electric, you can ask you energy supplier to replace it with a credit metre – meaning you’ll receive a monthly bill and payment will be taken automatically, and don’t need to worry about forgetting to top up.
Energy suppliers should always do this for free. If they try to charge you, it’s worth contacting Citizens Advice for support.
Shop for groceries online, or check for dementia-friendly stores
Research by The Alzheimer’s Society found that for 80% of those living with the condition, shopping was their favourite activity, yet 63% felt that shops weren’t doing enough to support their needs.
People living in the earlier stages of Alzheimer’s may find shopping more difficult than before. This may include –
- Finding it difficult to navigate their way around a store or locate the items they need
- Feeling disorientated by bold patterns or shiny surfaces
- Feeling overwhelmed by background noise
- Problems with paying, such as forgetting their PIN, counting out the right amount of money, feeling rushed, or using payment machines
- Missing social cues
The Alzheimer’s Society has released guidelines to help more shops and businesses become dementia friendly by improving staff training, ensuring a manned checkout is always available, and making changes to the layout, signage and amenities in their premises. Supermarkets Iceland and Sainsbury’s have joined forces with The Alzheimer’s Society to better support people with dementia, you can find out more here.
If you’re worried about shopping in person or have checked a local store and think you’d still find it too overwhelming, online shopping in the comfort of your own home may be a good alternative. Many online grocery stores allow you to ‘save’ your favourite items so you don’t forget them in your next order too.
Start brain training and activities
Many people with Alzheimer’s begin regular brain training games and activities as many believe they can maintain cognitive health for a longer period of time. Examples of brain training activities include crossword puzzles and sudoku puzzles, as well as daily challenges via dedicated mobile apps like Lumosity.
Art therapy can also be beneficial. Some people find the process of creating art calming – reducing feelings of anxiety or agitation. It also engages the brain and creates a new outlet for communication and self-expression.
Physical activity is important too. The Department of Health recommends around 30 minutes of activity a day – this could include walking to a local park, gardening, or low-impact sports like swimming or tai chi.
Picassos in the Park, with Chloe Trayler-Smith and Laura ChevalierThe Picassos in the Park programme continues to go from strength to strength – we talked to the two founders about the role of art for those with early stage dementia.
Improve home safety
There are some changes and checks you can make around your home to improve safety, especially if you’re prone to forgetting or are experiencing symptoms that affect your thinking abilities. These include –
- Making sure carbon monoxide and smoke detectors and fire extinguishers are available and working
- Labelling drawers, cabinets and cupboards to identify what’s in them
- Remove any locks on interior doors to remove the risk of getting locked in
- Replacing kitchen appliances with ones with an auto-shut-off feature
- Installing a thermostatic mixing valve to sink and bath taps – this will prevent the water temperature from reaching scalding levels.
While issues with spacial awareness or difficulty with balance tend to come later on, you may also find it helpful to prepare by –
- Removing tripping hazards, such as rugs, extension leads and excessive clutter.
- Applying eye-level stickers to glass doors or full-length windows
- Installing grab rails by the bath, toilet, and in the shower
Caring for someone with early-stage Alzheimer’s
If you’re supporting someone living with the early stages of Alzheimer’s, it’s important to help them feel in control. They may be fearful about what the future holds, or distressed by early dementia symptoms such as Alzheimer’s disease-related memory loss. Be there to listen, and give them as many opportunities as possible to share their feelings and wishes. When thinking about the future, put any care plans in place or action legal decisions together – and leave plenty of time to research and prepare for what the ideal future would look like.
Watch out for their mental health
While it’s natural to feel down from time to time, depression is unfortunately fairly common in people with Alzheimer’s. However, it’s not always easy to spot the signs as the condition can share certain depression symptoms, such as trouble concentrating and withdrawing from social obligations.
A person with depression and Alzheimer’s may also experience sleep disturbances, a loss of appetite, or become irritable. If you’re worried that the person you’re supporting is behaving or acting differently, and think this may be because of depression it’s important to seek help from a doctor. They may recommend a range of treatment options such as antidepressant medication or counselling, and they may also be able to suggest local support groups that bring together going through similar experiences.
Prioritise their independence
While you’ll naturally want to make life easier for your loved one, it’s important to assess a task before offering a helping hand. If there’s no risk to their safety, it may be more helpful to offer encouragement and wait until they ask for support. Rather than jumping in to do everyday tasks for them, think about whether there’s an aid or action you can take to make it easier for them to complete these tasks on their own in the future.
Help them avoid stress
Depending on their type of cognitive decline, certain everyday situations may be more stressful or overwhelming than others. If they find daily activities that involve other people such as shopping, picking up prescriptions, or going to church, offer solutions to help reduce exposure, such as setting them up with an online shopping account, collecting their prescriptions for them, or accompanying them to church to help them pick up on social cues they may miss, or involve them in conversations.
Agree on a way of offering help that they’re comfortable with
It’s not always easy to ask for or accept help. They may feel more comfortable giving you a physical signal, such as a nod or hand gesture – especially if they’re surrounded by or in conversation with other people and need some help. You may also begin to pick up on things they regularly find difficult. In these cases, you both may find it helpful to sit down to agree on whether they’d like you to step in automatically in the future.
Read more about dementia
Dementia Action Week is Alzheimer’s Society’s awareness campaign, which runs yearly to encourage people to ‘act on dementia’. At Elder, we want to shine