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What are the alternatives to moving into a care home?

Care homes can be an important part of later life. They can have a positive effect on the health of seniors and are known to dramatically improve loneliness and isolation. That being said, many elderly people still don’t like the idea of going into a care home as they believe it represents the end of independent living.

If you or a loved one needs additional support, there’s a good chance you’ll have already discussed the possibility of residential care. But are there alternatives to moving into a care home – from personal alarms and fall detection devices to moving in with relatives – depending on the level of care required.

Does your loved one need to move into a care home?

Moving into residential care is a big step. It affects the whole family – not just the person moving into care – and often comes with legal and financial obligations.

If you’re unsure about what your loved one needs, contact social services to ask for a needs assessment. Someone from the local authority will get in touch, usually a social worker, and ask your loved one questions about their day-to-day life. The results will identify what sort of support they need, so you can then make an informed decision about which care solution is right for your family.

What are the alternatives to moving into a care home?

Personal Alarms

Personal alarms are designed to keep elderly loved ones safe when they are on their own. If an older relative feels unwell, or they fall over and can’t get back up, they can press the panic button on their alarm to notify their emergency contacts.

Pendant alarms for the elderly come with a wide range of additional features, from fall detection to geolocation, and are usually waterproof so they can be used in the bath or shower, a high-risk area for falls.

If your elderly loved one is able to manage their personal care, including tasks like washing and using the bathroom and doesn’t need nursing care, then a personal alarm is a great alternative to residential care and can help them maintain their independence.

Knowing there’s an emergency button on hand and fall sensors installed can offer additional peace of mind. These features can prevent ‘long lies’, which can have negative consequences for your loved one’s health, as well as their confidence, not to mention the discomfort of being on the floor.

Home monitoring

Pendant alarms and wearable devices aren’t for everyone, which is where home monitoring can be a viable solution. Even though it can sound intrusive, it’s actually very discreet and doesn’t have to involve installing cameras in your home.

SECOM Smart Wellness uses a network of sophisticated motion sensors to track the activity in your loved one’s home, so you can start to build a picture of your loved ones patterns of behaviour or behavioural changes.

By building up a picture of your relative’s usual daily routines and behaviour patterns, the innovative homecare independent living system can detect when there’s something wrong. This might be not getting out of bed at their usual time, not opening the medicine cabinet or fridge, or leaving the front door open.

A notification is then sent to your smartphone so you can assess the situation and contact or check in on your loved one to see if they are ok. 

One of the biggest advantages of home monitoring systems is they don’t require wearables. This means elderly people who are reluctant to use a personal alarm can enjoy the same peace and security that comes with wearing one, without feeling like they’ve compromised their independence.

Moving in with family

In many cases, the children of elderly parents don’t want their loved one to move into residential care any more than they do. As a result, some adult children who have enough space at home, as well as the time and energy to look after their elderly parents, choose to move them into their family home.

Deciding to invite an elderly relative into your home isn’t a decision that should be rushed. There are a number of things to consider, including space, privacy and if you can provide the ongoing support your mum or dad needs.

Before getting started, seek independent legal advice with your elderly parents and draw up a formal agreement setting out what will happen if the arrangement ends. It might sound like an uncomfortable conversation to have with family, but having a clear plan from the outset about what will happen if, say, you and your partner divorce or your elderly parent moves into a care home, will make everything much simpler for the whole family.

Consider the practicalities of your home too, as stairs and bath tubs without handrails can pose challenges for the elderly. Your house may require modifications, such as fitting a stair lift or having a wet room installed. Also, it’s vital to take your lifestyle into account and whether you’ll be available enough to support your loved one.

In some cases, a personal alarm or smart home monitoring solutions may be necessary for times you’re away from home. These systems can act as a safety net so you can retain your independence while also caring for an elderly relative at home.

In-home care

In-home care can be an effective way to maintain a certain level of independent living. Care provided in your loved one’s own home is typically arranged by your local authority or with a private service provider. It’s easily tailored to the needs of the user and can be modified at any time if their requirements change.

The level of care your elderly relative receives will depend on their preferences and what they are able to do on their own. For example, some older people only need one visit a week, while others require more frequent visits to help with domestic chores and personal care.

A key advantage of in-home care is it allows your older parent to stay in their home for longer and continue their normal routine. This has multiple physical and mental health benefits, such as maintaining continuity and improving sleep quality.

Again, combining this approach with a pendant alarm or a fall alarm could help to give you full peace of mind. Putting measures in place to cover all eventualities means you can rest assured you’ll be notified if there’s a problem with your relative. It can also lead to them being able to stay in their own home for much longer than without the added support.

If you’re looking for a personal alarm for an elderly relative, then CareTech by SECOM has a wide selection of options to suit you and your loved ones needs to keep them living at home for longer and maintain independent living.

Six ways to manage and reduce stress in later life

Stress is your body’s reaction to feeling threatened or under pressure. It is meant to motivate you to meet the demands of everyday life.

Framed in this way, stress itself isn’t a bad thing – it’s supposed to help you conquer your problems, not cause them. Unfortunately, our bodies aren’t perfect at detecting pressure, so sometimes they overreact and produce too much adrenaline, the stress hormone that prepares us for fight or flight.

Too much stress can affect your mood and take a toll on your body, especially in later life. So it is important to manage. Keep reading to learn more.

Six tips for managing and reducing stress in later life

1) Trigger the relaxation response

The relaxation response is the final stage of the stress response. It calms you down and helps your mind and body recover. Best of all, you can trigger the relaxation response using breathing exercises.

Breathing exercises counter the stress-inducing effects of adrenaline. There are lots of different techniques to choose from, including alternate nostril breathing and diaphragmatic breathing. But if you want to start off small, we recommend counted breathing. It is a quick and easy way to focus attention away from whatever is causing you stress and elongate your exhales.

2) Start a journal

Journaling involves keeping a diary that explores your thoughts and feelings. It can be very therapeutic and, according to Scientists at the University of California, can help you regulate your emotions by reducing activity in the part of the brain responsible for emotional intensity.

Before you get started, think carefully about what it is you wish to explore. If you are unsure about what to write, do something simple like writing a list – you can jot down words describing how you feel or list things you are thankful for.

3) Get a good night’s sleep

Sleep is important for both your mental and physical health. If you don’t get enough sleep, it can increase your chances of feeling unwell and make it harder for you to deal with everyday problems.

If you think your sleep could do with improving, take a moment to reflect on your ‘sleep hygiene’. Good sleep hygiene means you have a comfortable bedroom and a daily routine that promotes consistent, uninterrupted sleep. Here are some of the most common changes older people can make:

  • Cut down on caffeine
  • Keep a consistent bedtime routine
  • Avoid screens 30 minutes before bed
  • Increase your exposure to daylight
  • Invest in a comfortable bed and mattress

4)  Exercise

Exercise is a great stress buster. Not only does it encourage the production of endorphins – the body’s happiness hormone – but it also reduces your chances of developing diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

As an older adult, you may find you can’t exercise as intensely as you once did. Fortunately, there are still exercises that you can do to get your heart pumping. The NHS recommends people over 65 do at least 150 minutes of moderate activity every week. Moderate activity is anything that makes you breathe harder and increases your heart rate.

If you are struggling for ideas, take a look online. There are lots of exercise classes for elderly people on websites like YouTube. Joe Wicks completed a whole series of workouts during the pandemic.

5) Challenge yourself

As we get older, it can be easy for us to slip into old habits and do the same thing day in, day out. This can take the spark out of life and make every day feel the same, increasing our chances of feeling low. Doing something new can have the opposite effect and make us feel more confident in our abilities.

Professor Cooper, an occupational health expert at the University of Lancaster, says: “By continuing to learn, you become more emotionally resilient as a person. It arms you with knowledge and makes you want to do things rather than be passive.”

There are lots of resources available for older people who wish to learn something new. An excellent example is the University of the Third Age, a UK-wide organisation of locally run interest groups.

6) Join a personal alarm service

After years of sharing your home with a family or spouse, living on your own can take a long time to get used to. So much so that sometimes elderly people experience a great deal of stress because of it.

If you think living on your own is causing you stress, maybe because you have a long-term health condition or worry about suffering a fall, a personal alarm could offer you the reassurance you need to feel more confident.

Personal alarms are discreet, wearable devices that allow the user to call for help at the touch of button. They are proven to help older people live more independently and cost from as little as £4.36 a week. You can learn more about our Care Hub package here.

What to do if an elderly loved one falls over

Around one-third of over-65s who live at home will suffer a fall this year, and of those about half will do so more frequently. Most of these falls won’t result in a serious injury, but each fall carries the risk of broken bones and a loss of confidence.

If the worst should happen and an elderly loved one falls over, knowing what to do can help you manage the situation and take the necessary steps to prevent it from happening again. Remember, you’re not alone in helping to manage your relative’s risk of falling, which is an inevitable part of ageing.

There are organisations that can offer practical support and infrastructure to put in place to alert you in case your loved one falls in their own home. A fall alarm for the elderly can give both you and your relative the peace of mind needed to maintain independent living despite the possibility of a fall being a reality.

What to do immediately after a fall

Check your surroundings

In the event of fall, the first thing you should do is evaluate your surroundings. Although lots of elderly falls aren’t due to trip hazards, it’s important to look so you don’t get hurt by the same spilt drink or wayward cable that tripped your relative.

Tend to your loved one

Once you’re sure the area is clear, tend to your loved one and encourage them to remain calm. Elderly people can go into a state of shock after a fall, and this can cause further complications later on if it isn’t dealt with straight away.

Check for injuries

While reassuring your loved one, check them for bleeding, bruises or possible broken bones. If your relative has a serious injury, instruct them to stay still while you call the emergency services. Use a blanket to keep them warm while you wait and don’t be tempted to move them.

How to help an elderly loved one back on their feet

Proceed slowly

If your elderly relative isn’t badly hurt and wants to get up, explain that you will need to proceed slowly. Find a sturdy piece of furniture like a chair, place it near their head and help them roll over onto their side. Be mindful that if they get stuck, say they’re in pain or become too tired to carry on, you’ll need to stop and call for help.

Assist your loved one onto their hands and knees, being careful never to intervene too much. It’s important that your elderly relative is able to do most of the physical work. Your role is to guide them through the process and make sure they don’t lose their balance.

Use a chair

Place the chair directly in front of them so they can put their hands comfortably on the seat. Ask them to lean forwards and use the chair to support themselves as they bring their strongest leg forwards. Your relative can then use their arms and legs to lift themselves up.

Rest

Keep your loved one steady as they get up and pivot them onto the chair. Once they are seated, let them rest for a while and double-check that they aren’t in any pain. When you’re confident that they can stand without hurting themselves or falling over again, help them back onto their feet and notify their GP that they’ve suffered a fall.

Who to talk to after an elderly loved one falls over

One of the biggest issues surrounding elderly falls is reporting. Millions of older people fall every year, but the number who tell their doctor or family is shockingly low. This not only affects the elderly person in question but prevents healthcare providers, and bodies like the NHS, from knowing how common falls are and setting aside enough money to adequately support older people.

If an elderly loved one falls over, it’s vital that they tell their GP. Research shows that falling over once doubles an older person’s chances of falling again and neglecting to tell a doctor can delay the diagnosis of an underlying health condition.

Falls can cause elderly people some embarrassment, particularly if they feel a fall is indicative of a general decline in their health or independence. But however much your loved one doesn’t want to confront the issue, it’s important you talk about it openly.

Failing to discuss falls can increase your relative’s chances of falling over and suffering a serious injury. This is also a good opportunity to bring the topic of fall detection devices into the conversation.

Fall detectors

If you’re worried about an elderly relative falling over while you aren’t around, talk to them about wearing a fall alarm. These personal devices are designed to detect sudden changes in direction and speed, sending for help automatically if the user suffers a fall.

Another benefit of fall detection devices is preventing ‘long lies’. A long lie occurs when someone falls over and can’t get back up. By using a fall detector, no matter where the user is when they fall, they can call for help instantly and receive medical attention in double-quick time.

If you’re interested in joining a personal alarm service and want to learn more about fall detectors, take a look at our Care Hub Plus and Care Go packages. Both of these solutions from CareTech by SECOM offer fall detection and are very popular among older people.

5 benefits of walking in later life

As you get older, staying active is incredibly important for your health. Not getting enough exercise can increase your chances of age-related diseases and make you more prone to falling over.

Walking is a great way to stay fit. It’s easy to incorporate into your daily routine, and all you need to get started is a sturdy pair of shoes.

Keep reading to learn more about the benefits of walking and how to get the most out of every step.

Five benefits of walking for the elderly

1) Burn calories

Although most people expect to gain weight as they age, it’s important that those in later life still watch their weight as a build-up of fat around the midriff can increase your risk of heart disease and type-2 diabetes.

Walking can help you manage your weight by burning off excess calories. Use a smartwatch or calorie calculator to work out how many calories you burn.

2) Lower your blood sugar

A study published by the American Diabetes Association found that taking a 15-minute walk after every meal improved blood sugar levels more than going for one long walk. If you suffer from high blood sugar, eat at regular intervals and take a stroll after you’ve eaten to manage your condition and prevent hyperglycemia.

3) Improve your mental health

When you’re feeling stressed, nothing can calm the nerves quite like a brisk walk. Studies show that it can reduce anxiety, boost your mood and make you feel more confident. Better yet, when done as a group, walking can help those who struggle with isolation meet new people and feel less lonely.

4) Reduce your risk of dementia

According to the Alzheimer’s society, of all the lifestyle changes that have been studied, regular exercise during mid- and later life is one of the best ways to reduce your risk of developing dementia.

For people who already have dementia, activities like walking can also slow down the progression of the condition. One study found that regular exercise maintains the brain’s white matter, the part of the brain responsible for planning and organisation.

5) Live longer

Researchers have uncovered a link between walking pace and life expectancy. The researchers analysed reports from 11 walking groups across the UK and found that those who walked at an “average” pace rather than a slow one reduced their overall risk of dying by 20 percent.

Tips for walking more in later life

Make it second nature

There’s plenty of evidence to show that walking in later life is good for you, but what are the practical steps that you can take to do it more often?

The best place to start is to make walking more of a habit. You can do this by making small changes to your everyday routine. Good examples include:

  • Commuting by foot
  • Always getting off the bus a few stops early
  • Using the stairs instead of a lift or escalator
  • Going for a stroll after dinner
  • Meeting friends for a walk

Add variety

Walking can become a little humdrum if you don’t mix it up. To keep your walks interesting, spice things up every now and again with a new route or visiting somewhere new.

Social enterprises like Walk Unlimited offer lots of resources for people of all ages to find inspiring and educational walks. Their website has lots of information about walking and helpful links to free maps.

Join a walking group

Walking groups are a great way to stay motivated and meet new people. There are lots of them across the UK, and people of all ages, abilities and levels of fitness can attend. If you’re interested in joining a walking group, Walking for Health can help you find a local scheme.

Tips for staying safe while walking

As we get older, our chances of falling over and suffering a serious injury increase. This makes it especially important for older walkers to be prepared. Below are some simple tips for staying safe while you walk.

Visibility

If you enjoy going for an evening stroll, or know you are going to be out after dark, you should take steps to make sure you can see where you are going and others can see you. You can do this by wearing brightly coloured or reflective clothing, carrying a torch and keeping to well-lit areas.

Wear comfortable shoes

Because our feet change as we get older, elderly people tend to have different footwear needs than other age groups. When shopping for your new walking shoes, keep these three points in mind:

  1. Make sure your shoes fit well and don’t slip off. If you wear compression socks, make sure your footwear can accommodate them without being too tight.
  2. Look for well-ventilated, supportive shoes with high sides and low heels.
  3. Make sure the soles of your shoes offer plenty of grip.

Wear a GPS alarm

GPS alarms like Care Go offer reassurance. They feature location tracking and fall detection so no matter where you are – whether at home or walking to the shops – you are covered every step of the way.

If you get lost, feel unwell or suffer a fall, you can press the panic button on your alarm to speak to a member of our 24-hour monitoring team. They can let the emergency services or one of your emergency contacts know exactly where you are.

Stay hydrated

Dehydration can lead to dizziness and confusion, increasing your chances of falling over and seriously injuring yourself.

To stay hydrated, make sure you drink plenty of water before you leave the house and fill up a water bottle so you can take small sips while you walk. Drinking little but often rather than lots in one go will prevent you feeling bloated or needing to go to the bathroom.

7 tips for managing your money in later life

Taking practical steps to look after your money is always important. Without proper financial management, you could accumulate debt and not be able to afford the things you need.

These top tips cover everything from savings and investments to fine-tuning your pension.

1) Review your everyday finances

Before you get started, you need to get a clear picture of your financial situation. This can be done by completing a mini financial audit.

Sit down with your records and make a list of all the organisations you deal with. Remember to note important details like customer and account numbers, and be mindful of ‘lost’ assets.

Millions, if not billions of pounds sit unclaimed in UK savings accounts. So if you think you have lost or forgotten about an account, double check using a free service like Lost My Account. It could net you a small nest egg.

2) Make your money work harder

Loyalty is rarely rewarded in the savings market. Some savings accounts pay as little as 0.01% and those targeted at long-standing customers don’t necessarily pay the highest interest rates.

To make the most of your savings, evaluate each savings account separately and use a comparison site like Go Compare or Which? to work out where you are better off investing your money.

3) Simplify your bill paying

Paying household bills is an ordinary part of adult life, much the same as doing the weekly shop. However, if you pay your bills at the Post Office or by cheque, you run the risk of missing a payment if something goes wrong.

Setting up direct debits or standing orders for regular payments simplifies the process and reduces your chances of missing a payment. Even better, some service providers incentivise customers by offering a lower rate to those who pay by direct debit.

Learn more about setting up a direct debit on the official site.

4) Optimise your pension pot

For the large majority of people in later life, their main source of income is going to be their pension or a combination of pensions. As such, it’s very important that you make sure your pension is as healthy as possible before and during your retirement.

Before retirement

  • Use the Government’s state pension forecast to see how much your state pension is worth, when you will receive it and, if possible, how to increase it.
  • Estimate how much income you will need to live comfortably during your retirement. Consider how your finances will change when you leave the workplace, and remember that you will be entitled to additional benefits in later life.
  • Consolidate your pensions into one pot so you know how much money you have accumulated during your career.

After retirement

  • If possible, think about topping up or deferring your state pension. It could improve your financial situation in the long run.
  • New pension freedom rules mean that those over 55 no longer have to buy an annuity with their defined contribution pension. This means retirees can either take one or more lump sums, move their money into income drawdown, buy an annuity or a combination of all three.
  • Pension credit tops up your state pension if you are on a low income and can be used to cover housing costs. Find out if you are eligible here.

5) Apply for the benefits you are entitled to

When you reach retirement age, you instantly become eligible for a number of benefits. Some people are hesitant to claim as they worry it will involve a lot of red tape. But claiming can be as simple as filling in a few forms.

Independent Age’s benefit checker can help you work out which benefits you are entitled to and how to claim. The charity also operates a free helpline for those who need extra support organising their finances.

6) Take advantage of deals

It’s not always possible to reach your long-term financial goals. But if you want to make the most of your money, you should keep an eye out for the latest concessions and over-60s discounts.

Organisations and businesses regularly offer older people unique deals as they know they are more likely to have additional income. A savvy retiree can take advantage of these and save hundreds of pounds during the course of their retirement.

If you’re not sure if a business offers a discount to older customers, check their website or ask in store. There’s nothing wrong with asking and businesses don’t always advertise their concessions. A good rule of thumb is to look out for student discounts – if they offer a student one, they probably offer a senior one too!

7) Boost your income

There are lots of ways for elderly people to supplement their income, whether it’s buying low at a car boot sale and selling high on eBay, or putting old skills to good use and becoming a tutor online.

If you want to start something new, mystery shoppers are needed all the time. Pay varies and some agencies only pay in reward cards or vouchers. But if you’re not particularly fussed about saving money or reaching a specific savings goal, then roles like this are ideal for older people and can add colour to your week.

Additional ways to earn money during retirement include:

  • Trading in old books, CDs and records
  • Sending letters or stories to magazines
  • Renting out a parking space
  • Starting a blog

Managing your finances in later life isn’t easy. There are lots of things to consider and it can take years to get used to living on a fixed income.

If money worries are making you feel stressed, talk to someone you trust and consider contacting a money advice service. Lots of places offer free and impartial advice to elderly people, and they can help you arrange a retirement plan, improve your financial literacy and increase your credit score.

How to look after your mental health in later life

Healthy living is often thought of in terms of eating well and exercising regularly. But a healthy lifestyle isn’t just a matter of looking after your physical health – your mental health is important too.

This article offers practical help and advice for looking after your mental health, including information on assessing how you feel and finding help if your mental health gets worse.

What is mental health?

Mental health comes in many forms. It includes your emotional, psychological and social wellbeing, and can affect how you handle everyday stress, interact with others and make choices.

Your mental health is likely to change over the course of your life. There are lots of reasons for this, but the most common causes are traumatic life experiences, family history and biological factors such as brain chemistry.

What can affect your mental health in later life?

People of all ages experience changes in mental health. But as you get older, there are specific events and situations that can affect your psychological wellbeing. Research shows that older people are more likely to suffer from poor mental health due to five particular issues. These are:

  • Discrimination
  • A lack of meaningful activity
  • Relationships
  • Physical health
  • Poverty

What are the signs of mental illness?

Mental health disorders affect everyone differently and the symptoms vary widely between people. To complicate matters, sometimes a mental illness can appear as a physical problem rather than an emotional one.

If your mental health is in decline, or you are worried someone you know is suffering from mental ill health, signs and symptoms to look out for include:

  • Feeling sad or low
  • Feeling confused or unable to concentrate
  • Excessive worrying or extreme feelings of guilt
  • Mood swings
  • Withdrawal from social interactions or avoiding friends and family
  • Significant fatigue or low energy
  • Problems sleeping
  • Delusions, paranoia or hallucinations
  • Inability to cope with daily problems or stress
  • Trouble understanding and relating to situations and people
  • Drug or alcohol misuse
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Being overly aggressive or hostile
  • Suicidal thoughts

When to get support

Most mental health problems don’t get better on their own. If left untreated, your mental health can get worse and lead to more serious problems.

If your symptoms persist, speak to your GP or someone you trust. Talking about how you feel will help you work through your problems and decide your next steps. If you are in crisis, call an emotional support line such as The Samaritans or Silver Line, the only confidential helpline dedicated to providing information, friendship and advice to older people.

How to look after your mental health

Stay in touch

Human beings are social animals, and that means we all pine for social connection – no matter how much we enjoy our own company.

Volunteering is a great way to stay connected. Best of all, doing something that makes you feel proud of yourself can boost your self-esteem and make it easier to combat negative thoughts and feelings.

There are thousands of charities up and down the country that are always looking for new volunteers. If you’re unsure about where to start, Do It is a database of UK volunteering opportunities that you can search by interest, activity and location.

Be present

Being present, also referred to as ‘mindfulness’, is about concentrating on the here and now. It can improve your self-awareness and help you enjoy the world around you.

The practice has been around for hundreds of years and usually involves some form of meditative exercise. Here is a guided breathing exercise from Every Mind Matters to get you started.

Be active

Staying active is proven to help you look after your mental wellbeing. Exercise improves cognitive function and encourages the production of endorphins, the body’s natural happiness hormone.

Being active doesn’t mean running marathons or going to the gym every day – there are plenty of low-impact activities that you can do. Most importantly, you should try to do something that you enjoy and can continue long-term.

Many councils offer low-cost activities for those in later life. You may be able to access exercise therapy through your local practice too. Speak to your GP or visit www.nhs.uk to find out if this service is available where you live.

Sleep well

There’s a very close relationship between sleep and mental health: suffering from a mental health condition can make it harder to get a good night’s sleep, and getting too little sleep can negatively affect your mental health. This makes it very easy for sleeplessness to impact your wellbeing.

There are lots of steps that you can take to improve your sleep. They include establishing a solid bedtime routine, keeping a sleep diary and making sure your bedroom is as comfortable as possible.

Whichever method you choose, you should only do what feels right for you and not put too much pressure on yourself to get things right first time. If the first strategy you choose doesn’t work, you can always try something else and come back to it when you’re ready.

Final thoughts

Older adults experience mental health problems at a lower rate than many younger age groups, but that doesn’t mean they are immune to them. There are lots of things that can affect older people, and it’s important for people of all ages to feel comfortable talking about how they feel.

If you are worried about your mental or physical health, seek help from a medical professional. There are lots of treatments available, including talking therapies and medications, that can make a big difference to your overall quality of life.

What is Alzheimer’s disease?

Alzheimer’s disease is the leading cause of dementia. It is a progressive disease that gradually affects memory, thinking and, ultimately, your ability to take care of yourself.

Alzheimer’s disease is named after Dr Alois Alzheimer, who discovered the condition at the turn of the twentieth century. He discovered the disease after examining the brain of an elderly woman who had died of an unexplained illness.

The elderly woman’s brain was found to contain clumps now known as amyloid plaques and Neurofibrillary tangles (NFTs). These clumps and tangles are a primary marker of Alzheimer’s disease. They are caused by a build-up of protein in the brain and eventually cause nerve cells to die, leading to a loss in brain tissue.

Alzheimer’s disease symptoms

The signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease are usually mild to begin with. This is because the initial build-up of proteins in the brain that cause the disease rarely affect the brain’s functionality straight away. It takes time for the proteins to reach a volume that can actually damage cells.

As the brain becomes more congested and cells begin to die, the symptoms of the disease gradually get worse. This is the main difference between Alzheimer’s disease and the usual changes in mental acuity that come with getting older.

In a lot of cases, the first indications that someone has Alzheimer’s disease are problems with memory – most notably, issues with learning new information and remembering recent events.

Alzheimer’s disease stages

Alzheimer’s disease can progress at different rates and the symptoms vary from person to person. That being said, the symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s disease are regularly broken down into three discrete phases: early, middle and late. These are sometimes referred to as mild, moderate and severe in medical contexts.

Early symptoms

The main symptoms of early Alzheimer’s disease are lapses in memory. Examples include:

  • Forgetting recent conversations or events
  • Losing or misplacing things
  • Forgetting the names of people, places or objects
  • Asking the same questions repeatedly
  • Mood swings
  • Confusion

Middle symptoms

As the illness progresses, lapses in memory continue to get worse. The sufferer may find it increasingly difficult to remember the names of people they know, and they may even struggle to recognise friends and family. When someone reaches this stage, they normally need some sort of additional support with day-to-day living.

Other symptoms include:

  • Feeling more confused or disorientated
  • Obsessive or repetitive behaviour
  • Paranoia
  • Aphasia
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Issues performing spatial tasks
  • Depression
  • Feeling increasingly agitated, frustrated or anxious
  • Hallucinations

Late symptoms

In the final stage of the disease, the effects of the condition become more severe, often causing the sufferer and their loved ones significant distress. People in this stage of the disease will need full-time care.

Symptoms may include:

  • Aggressive, suspicious or potentially violent behaviour
  • Dysphagia
  • Mobility issues
  • Weight loss
  • Incontinence
  • Total loss of speech

Alzheimer’s disease life expectancy

On average, someone with Alzheimer’s disease will live for four to eight years after their condition is confirmed. However, some people can live as long as 20 years after diagnosis.

The period between someone getting Alzheimer’s and actually seeking help, sometimes referred to as preclinical Alzheimer’s, also lasts for many years. In fact, the time it takes for the first signs of Alzheimer’s disease to present and someone receiving a diagnosis is normally 2.8 years.

Alzheimer’s disease treatment

Amyloids – the packets of protein that build up in the brain – aren’t the only cause of Alzheimer’s disease. Other factors play a role too. Some people with Alzheimer’s disease have fewer neurotransmitters in their brain, making it harder for messages to pass from neuron to neuron. While other people have vascular issues that limit the supply of blood and nutrients to their brain. Because of this, there are non-curative treatments available for people with Alzheimer’s disease that can temporarily reduce their symptoms.

Medicines

Anti-dementia medications offer a temporary reduction in symptoms. You will need to speak with your GP or a specialist to find out which ones are right for you or your loved one.

Acetylcholinesterase (AChE) inhibitors

These medicines improve levels of a natural chemical in the brain that helps nerves cells communicate with each other. They can only be prescribed by psychiatrists and neurologists, but it is possible to get them from your GP on the advice of a specialist.

AChE inhibitors are for people with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease.

Memantine

This medication is not like AChE inhibitors. Instead of promoting communication between nerve cells, this medicine works by blocking the effects of excessive glutamate on the brain.

The drug is suitable for people with moderate to severe Alzheimer’s.

Therapies and activities

Cognitive Stimulation Therapy

Cognitive Stimulation Therapy, also known as CST, involves attending regular sessions in small groups led by a trained nurse or occupational therapist.

The sessions are designed to engage people with dementia, provide a comfortable learning environment and encourage social interaction. The benefits of the therapy are wide ranging and some research shows that CST can be just as effective as some anti-dementia drugs in people with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s.

Cognitive rehabilitation

This treatment involves working with a medical professional and someone you trust, such as a carer or family member, to learn a new skill or achieve a personal goal that supports your everyday living. Goals include using a smartphone or doing household chores.

The focus of this technique is to encourage you to use the healthy parts of your brain that are still active to engage the areas of your brain that are not. Doing so can improve your overall cognitive function and prolong your independence.

Reminiscence therapy

Reminiscence therapy involves talking about your life and the things or events you remember. It makes use of props such as photographs and music records and is normally performed one-on-one. Evidence shows that it can make those with dementia feel more confident in their abilities.

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Caring for elderly parents: Five tips for new carers

Becoming a caregiver can be overwhelming. There is so much to do and learn that most new carers find the first few months pass by in a blur of appointments and form filling.

We understand how complicated the process can be. So seeing as it’s Carers’ Week, we’ve compiled five tips for unpaid carers, covering everything from paying for care to looking after your mental health.

1) Request a carer’s assessment

If you care for an aging parent, you’ve probably heard of a needs assessment, where your older parent is assessed by their local authority to evaluate how much support they need.

carer’s assessment is similar but designed to gauge the needs of the carer. During the assessment, a social worker will ask you questions about your life to find out what they can do to help you support your family member.

Before attending your carer’s assessment, it’s worth thinking about how providing care affects your life. This includes how it impacts your physical and mental health, your relationships and your ability to hold down a job. You will also need to bring:

  • personal information like your NHS number and your GP’s name and address
  • your contact details and the contact details of anyone attending the assessment, such as a friend or professional advocate.
  • the personal details of the person you care for

2) Check your eligibility for Carer’s Allowance

Carer’s Allowance is the primary state benefit for unpaid carers. For the tax year 2021/2022, it was worth £67.60 per week and entitled the applicant to receive National Insurance credits if they were under pension age.

You may be eligible for Carer’s Allowance if you are over 16 and spend at least 35 hours a week caring for someone else. The support you offer doesn’t have to be physical either. Emotional support, such as keeping someone company, is also recognised.

If you are worried about paying for care or supporting yourself, speak to a charity like Turn2us. They offer free and impartial advice to people who are struggling financially and can help you apply for state benefits as well as local authority and NHS funding. Use their benefit calculator to work out your entitlement and put together a financial plan for the year ahead.

3) Talk to your GP

When you become an adult carer, let your GP know so they can offer you more support. As a carer, you are entitled to free flu vaccinations and your practice will be more flexible with appointment times. With the consent of your loved one, your practice will also be allowed to share information with you about your parent’s health.

Remember that carers can fall ill themselves and the responsibilities of caregiving can take a toll on your physical and mental wellbeing. Speaking to your doctor and taking advantage of the free health checks carers are entitled to will help you look after your health and provide dependable long-term care.

4) Speak to your employer about flexible working

As an employee, you are entitled to ask your employer for flexible working after six months of continuous employment.

Employment law in the UK allows employees to apply for flexible working once a year; although some employers, particularly those that are more sympathetic to the needs of their employees, will allow you to submit another application if your circumstances change.

Flexible working takes many forms. Most of the time it includes arrangements like part-time work and job sharing, but it can also include flexitime, working from home and working compressed hours.

Whatever your options, it’s worth considering a trial period. Trial periods give you and your employer the chance to review how any changes to your employment will work without either of you committing to a permanent change to your contract.

5) Take breaks when you can

When you become a full-time carer, finding the time to do the things you enjoy can be hard. Having someone who depends on you day in, day out can make it difficult to relax, clear your mind and remember what it was like to focus on you.

Respite care is an excellent option for those who need to take a short break from being a carer. It gives unpaid carers temporary relief from looking after their relative and usually involves either live-in care, care at home (domiciliary care) or nursing home care.

Your council will provide respite care as a care option if your carer’s assessment or your loved one’s needs assessment indicates you need it. Be aware that you can only take a specified amount of time away from caring for your parent before your benefits are affected.