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The Physical Side of Alzheimer’s: What You Need to Know

For most of us, a discussion about dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease, centers primarily around memory loss. That’s understandable, given the devastating impact memory loss and confusion has on those struggling with dementia and the effect upon their families.

What is often overlooked, however, are the physical manifestations of the disease in the mid to later stages. WebMD explains that the build-up of harmful amyloid plaques and clusters in the brain will initially affect those areas involved with memory. Yet, as the disease progresses, these clusters and clumps can be found in other areas of the brain, resulting in physical impairment. It is important that physical decline be recognized and treated to keep the individual as safe, comfortable and healthy for as long as possible.

This is especially important for those with dementia who are still living at home. Because, in many cases, they may not have the benefit of being cared for by a memory care professional, someone trained to detect the physical problems associated with dementia, and provide comprehensive treatment.  

If you have a loved one who has been diagnosed with a dementia, such as Alzheimer’s, it is important to understand the repercussions of physical decline. The physical impairment accompanying dementias has been documented in medical journals as well as online resources, such as Alz.org and WebMd. Here are three key physical challenges arising as the disease progresses:

  • Mobility. As the disease begins to attack brain cells associated with muscle awareness and movement, an individual will begin to lose balance and strength. That, along with the lack of cognitive self-awareness, may cause your loved one to attempt to do things beyond their abilities, forgetting to use a cane or walker. If your loved one is not carefully watched over, this could result in a fall and cause serious injury.
  • Incontinence. As the muscles that control bladder function become impaired, incontinence will occur more frequently. Those with dementia may be unable to locate their own bathroom or communicate their need to a caregiver.
  • Inability to perform rote “pre-programmed” tasks. Also referred to as “apraxia”, this disability begins with difficulty handling daily rote activities such as brushing ones’ teeth and hair and dressing oneself. As the disease progresses, the individual may have trouble chewing and swallowing food.

While it is important for family members to understand the cognitive decline of a loved one with dementia, it is equally important to attend to the accompanying physical impairments. This is where a memory care community can really help. Environments that are centered around dementia care have physicians and caregivers available 24/7 who are experienced in all aspects of dementia. And, when your loved one is challenged with dementia, such as Alzheimer’s, you deserve the peace of mind that comes with knowing that you are doing everything you possibly can to keep them comfortable, healthy and out of harm’s way.