The Alzheimer’s Association is increasing its programs to help people in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.
The lapses in memory and the moments of confusion are often subtle when Alzheimer’s disease first develops. People become afraid to go out and socialize, says Bernadette Graycar, Weymouth elder outreach worker.
“They are scared they will get trapped, not remember things and not know what to say,” she says.
Support from family members and doctors can help, but the biggest boost to self-confidence is knowing that others are in the same boat.
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Next month, Weymouth Elder Services will host a new program for people living with the early stages of the progressive brain disease. Family members or care partners are also welcome.
The three-part series at the Whipple Senior Center is one of several such programs in the area, and is part of a trend.
As the population ages and more people are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, national and state associations are focusing more on the disease’s early stages. The reason? That’s often when the most can be done to slow its progression.
The handful of medications effective in treating symptoms of the disease can work best early on, said Nicole McGurin, manager of the early-stage program for the Alzheimer’s Association’s Massachusetts/New Hampshire chapter. Research has also shown that lifestyle changes, particularly exercise, can slow the progression.
“We are engaged in a public awareness campaign to encourage early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease to ensure the most promising treatment,” McGurin said.
Graycar, a Braintree resident, has worked with early-stage support groups at HESSCO Elder Services in Sharon.
“What touched me was the support the people with the illness gave to each other,” she said. “They really reached out to each other. People in early stages are still aware of their symptoms and the changes in their memory. Support from others can help them slow down the symptoms.”
The biggest benefit, she said, is that in a group, people realize they are not alone. The members give one another tips for when challenges arise.
Graycar recalled one man who had gone to a college reunion and had dreaded it because of his memory loss. “He found others at the reunion (people who did not have Alzheimer’s) didn’t remember things as well either,” Graycar said. “It wasn’t just him. And that brought comfort to everyone in his early-stage Alzheimer’s group.”
Receiving a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s can be devastating, and once medications are prescribed, families and patients often find they feel very alone. The early stages can last for years before symptoms advance.
“In the past 10 years we have learned a lot about what can slow the disease,” McGurin said. “The saying that information is power has never been more true.”
Weymouth Elder Services, the Norwell Visiting Nurse Association, Hospice and Cedar Hill Health Care are sponsoring the program in Weymouth.
Sue Scheible may be reached at email@example.com.