Caring for a Loved One with Alzheimer’s or Dementia

Posted on March 22, 2017
Caring for a Loved One with Alzheimer’s or Dementia
6 min read

Over 850,000 people have dementia in the UK, including 1 in 6 people over the age of 80. Alzheimer’s and dementia can affect every part of a person’s life and can equally impact that of their loved ones –  including relationships, mental health, and physical well-being.

Just hearing the word dementia can be frightening. For families affected by dementia, understanding the condition is very important in order to know how to deal with it. Caring for a loved one with dementia also presents many challenges and knowing what help and resources are available can help relieve the stress it causes. This is where Alzheimer’s and dementia care comes in.

Although there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, specialist care can provide patients with dignity and a high quality of life. Furthermore, by understanding the disease and how personalised care can help, you can ensure your elderly loved one gets the care they deserve if ever they need it. SuperCarers is experienced in Alzheimer’s and dementia care and we’ve put together this article to help you understand what Alzheimer’s and dementia are and what you can do if your loved one receives a diagnosis.


  • 5 most common types of dementia

  • Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease

  • Being prepared and receiving an early diagnosis

  • Understanding the situation

  • Questions to ask

5 common types of dementia

Dementia describes a set of symptoms that may include memory loss, marked changes in mood and personality, and difficulties with thinking, problem solving, and speaking. Over time, these changes may become severe enough to affect daily life. The specific symptoms that someone with dementia experiences will depend on the parts of the brain that are damaged and disease that is causing the dementia.

It is caused when the brain is damaged, such as by Alzheimer’s or a stroke. There are five common types of dementia, including: Alzheimer’s disease, Lewy Body, Vascular, Frontotemporal lobe, and Mixed.

Alzheimer’s disease

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia and affects each person differently. It occurs when brain cells are surrounded by an abnormal protein (plaque) that damages their internal structure. This causes the brain to shrink dramatically, affecting all of its functions and may even result in changes in personality and relationships.

The rapid shrinkage of the brain, at five times the rate of that of a healthy elderly person over 60 years of age, significantly reduces the affected individual’s ability to care for themselves and relate to others. Problems with day-to-day memory are often noticed first, but other symptoms may include difficulties with finding the right words, problem solving, making decisions, or perceiving things in three dimensions. By age 85, the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease is almost 50 percent.

Lewy Body disease

Lewy Body disease has a similar pattern of decline to Alzheimer’s. This includes early symptoms such as sleep disturbances, followed by Parkinsonian-like tremors, stiffness, and visual hallucinations.

Vascular dementia

Vascular dementia is a result of brain damage caused by multiple strokes. The most common symptoms overlap with those of Alzheimer’s, however, memory loss may not be as seriously apparent. Likely initial symptoms include Impaired judgment or an inability to make plans.

Frontotemporal lobe dementia

Frontotemporal lobe dementia begins inside the forehead region of the brain. Symptoms including changes in personality and behaviour, and difficulty with language. Symptoms generally develop at a younger age (around 60 years old) and peoples survive fewer years than those with Alzheimer’s.


Increasing evidence suggests that many people have “mixed dementia”, characterised by having more than one disorder present. The most common combination is Alzheimer’s and Vascular dementia.

Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia

General symptoms of dementia include problems with memory, communication and language, ability to focus and pay attention, reasoning and judgment, and visual perception. Over time these symptoms may become more severe and more may appear. Take a look below for a description of how some of these common symptoms may present themselves in Alzheimer’s disease.

Memory lapses

  • Most common and first symptom noticed

  • Includes increased forgetfulness, repetitive questions, retelling stories within a short space of time, and misplacing items

  • Forgetting names of more recent acquaintances/younger family members

  • Can be very frustrating for the speaker. Is it unusual for the speaker?

  • Lose items often; turn up in unusual places (keys in freezer)

  • May be a symptom if it escalates and becomes uncharacteristic

Marked changes in mood or personality

  • Withdrawal, often in response to memory/communication problems

  • Mood swings, anxiety, and frustration

  • Signs of depression (changes in sleep, appetite, mood)

Trouble with abstract thinking

  • Trouble with simple mathematical tasks, e.g. paying a bill in a restaurant

  • Trouble paying bills or keeping finances in order when they used to have no problem

  • Trouble following a discussion or understanding explanations and instructions

  • Abstract thinking becomes more challenging, especially if topic is complex or reasoning is sequential or related to cause and effect

Difficulty completing familiar activities

  • Trouble preparing meals or maintaining personal care

  • No longer using particular skills/talents they used to enjoy

  • Inability to complete activities with multiple different steps


  • Disoriented in new or unfamiliar environments (hospital, airports) – asking how they got there, where they are, how to get home?

  • Disoriented in familiar environments, such as the home

  • Wander off and get lost in public

  • Lose track of time, day, month, year – trouble keeping appointments and remembering other events/commitments

  • More typical in later stages

Poor or impaired judgment

  • Making questionable symptoms about money management

  • Odd choices regarding self-care (dressing inappropriately, not bathing)

  • Can be linked to memory loss, personality changes, and abstract thinking

  • Worrisome as it can risk a parent’s safety, health, or finances_ _

Being prepared and receiving an early diagnosis

Any of these symptoms could be subtle or well concealed, both by your loved one or a spouse or partner who is understandably concerned. Symptoms of Alzheimer’s and dementia could also be caused by multiple factors, such as advancing age, family history of other diseases, cardiovascular disease, or a history of head trauma. You may want to ask others to pay attention and keep track of unusual behaviours, mood changes, and decisions but most importantly you should encourage your loved one to see a doctor.

Whatever your situation, if you suspect that an elderly loved one is becoming more forgetful or if you recognise any other symptoms, acting quickly can be truly beneficial. Seeking professional assistance can be a huge help and getting an early diagnosis may help in cases where there are drugs available that can delay the progression of disease or alleviate symptoms.

Furthermore, contacting organisations such as Alzheimers Society, Dementia UK, Carers UK can help you understand how to cope with elderly loved ones with Dementia at all stages.  They provide practical guides, information on how to look after your loved ones at home, as well as practical support groups for both patients and carers.

Understanding the situation

It’s the small things that can throw you off balance, such as a loved one forgetting who people are, getting lost in familiar places, losing their temper for no reason, or losing interest in something that they have always been passionate about. It can be very frustrating and challenging but every person is unique, with their own life history, personality, likes and dislikes, and there is no single way to care for people with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Taking time to better understand how that person is feeling can help ensure that they receive the high quality support that they deserve.

Although many things start to change for someone diagnosed with dementia, their life shouldn’t be determined just by their condition. Important things, such as their relationships, their environment, and the support they receive can allow their experience of living with dementia to still be a positive one. It’s important to focus on what the person still does have, not on what they may have lost.

The following can be helpful to remember when supporting someone with living with dementia. (Source Alzheimer’s Society)

  • Try to understand how the person with dementia feels

  • Do not dismiss a person’s worries – listen and show them that you are there for them

  • Try to enjoy the moment and try not to spend too much time thinking about what the future may or may not hold

  • A sense of humour may help, if the time feels right

  • Continue to include them in activities to show that they are still valued

  • Strong emotions may be caused by unmet needs – you should try to work out what these needs are and meet them where possible


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