Merck Manuals Shares Advice and Resources for Alzheimer's Caregivers

Friday, November 11, 2016 Mental Health News
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KENILWORTH, N.J., Nov. 10, 2016 /PRNewswire/ -- With more than five million Americans living with Alzheimer's disease and

more than 10 million caring for someone with Alzheimer's, nearly everyone knows someone affected by this irreversible, heartbreaking disease.

During National Alzheimer's Awareness Month and National Family Caregivers Month, Dr. Juebin Huang,

MD, PhD and Assistant Professor of Neurology at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, provides guidance for those caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's disease on

Some of the insights Dr. Huang outlined in his article include:

Understand the difference between dementia and Alzheimer's

Distinguishing Alzheimer's disease from the varied effects of aging and related conditions remains challenging for patients and their families.

Dementia is not a specific disease. Dementia is a term used to describe any slow, progressive decline in mental function, like memory or language, which is significant enough to disrupt an individual's daily activities. Although Alzheimer's disease is the most common type of dementia, there are many other causes of dementia that a physician will consider.

Be mindful of warning signs

In older adults, it's not always easy to figure out which changes in memory and personality are parts of the natural aging process and which are signs of a more serious issue. While family members most commonly point to signs of forgetfulness in aging loved ones, doctors considering an Alzheimer's diagnosis will also look for other warning signs, including:

  • A decline in carrying out daily functions like balancing a checkbook
  • A lack of interest in hobbies
  • Reluctance to leave the house
  • Difficulty keeping up with conversations.

Monitor progression

Caregivers are often the first to notice warning signs and may be the ones to push for the first doctor visit. However, these issues typically develop very slowly and are very subtle at first. It's common for individuals to not remember exactly when they started experiencing symptoms. It can be years before a person seeks medical treatment, which makes establishing a timeline and predicting the progression difficult for doctors.

Once treatment has begun, caregivers can be more accurate and objective in describing symptoms to doctors.

Help loved ones maintain their normal daily functions

Caregivers play a crucial role in helping patients maintain their day-to-day lives. Maintaining household chores, social interactions, and physical activities are especially important.  In the relatively early stages of Alzheimer's disease, caregivers should encourage their loved ones to continue regular activities, while also monitoring to ensure these activities don't become dangerous to the affected person or to others.

Make sure you're cared for

There may come a time when an Alzheimer's patient begins to challenge the caregiver and stops following instructions. As the person's behavior changes, caregivers must constantly shift their strategies and expectations. This is no easy feat. When a person with Alzheimer's disease is especially upset or confused, often the best approach is to relent enough to let the person calm down, then redirect the behavior later. It's important to remember that the person's condition is clouding their true intentions.

The physical and emotional impact of caring for a loved one who is struggling with Alzheimer's disease can be overwhelming. Many doctors' offices have social workers available to talk to caregivers and direct them to additional resources and support. Resources are also available online, like the services offered by the Alzheimer's Association, Alzheimer's Disease International and Alzheimer's Foundation of America.

About The Merck Manuals

First published in 1899 as a small reference book for physicians and pharmacists, The Merck Manual grew in size and scope to become one of the world's most widely used comprehensive medical resources for professionals and consumers. As The Manual evolved, it continually expanded the reach and depth of its offerings to reflect the mission of providing the best medical information to a wide cross-section of users, including medical professionals and students, veterinarians and veterinary students, and consumers. In 2015, The Merck Manual kicked off Global Medical Knowledge 2020, a program to make the best current medical information accessible by up to three billion professionals and patients around the world by 2020. For access to thousands of medical topics with images, videos and a constantly expanding set of resources, visit and connect with us on social media:

For Consumers in the U.S. and its territories: Twitter and FacebookFor Professionals in the U.S. and its territories: Twitter and Facebook

About Merck

Today's Merck is a global health care leader working to help the world be well. Merck is known as MSD outside the United States and Canada. Through our prescription medicines, vaccines, biologic therapies and animal health products, we work with customers and operate in more than 140 countries to deliver innovative health solutions. We also demonstrate our commitment to increasing access to health care through far-reaching policies, programs and partnerships. For more information, visit and connect with us on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn.

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