Early intervention in caring for someone with dementia is critical, as it expands the reach of treatments that can slow down cognitive decline, give more time for important decision-making, and promote a better quality of life for the whole family.
Whether or not your loved one has been officially diagnosed with dementia – researchers have found that the majority of the time there will be no formal diagnosis until later stages – if there is no plan of care in place, a crisis occurs where you and your family are left scrambling for a solution, often at the expense of what you and your loved one want and need. Early intervention in caring for someone with dementia is critical, as it expands the reach of treatments that can slow down cognitive decline, give more time for important decision-making, and promote a better quality of life for the whole family.
If you’re looking to provide your loved one with the help and support they need, there are two important steps to start this journey: First, talk to your loved one about what you have noticed and how they are feeling. Second, put an action plan in place as soon as possible to increase your loved one’s chances of living safely, comfortably, and joyfully. Denial, lack of awareness, or an “I’ll get around to it” mentality can be an additional hurdle you need to manage, and providing examples of the benefits of early intervention will be necessary for those conversations.
Here we explore what early intervention means and its primary goals; some evidence-based benefits of early intervention; and how Lizzy Care’s unique and personalized approach to memory can make all the difference for your loved one’s well-being.
What does early intervention mean?
Early intervention aims to halt or slow the progression of cognitive decline, preserve memory, and increase resilience. To achieve this, families must work together to put a specialized plan in place for their loved one, which may include working with an experienced memory care coach who can guide families step by step.
The progression of cognitive decline is on a spectrum and often moves through the following stages:
- Age-related memory loss: Attributed to normal aging, this type of memory loss is common and sporadic.
- Mild cognitive impairment (MCI): Considered the “in-between” stage, MCI can increase one’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia.
- Progression into various forms of dementia: This can include three formal stages of Alzheimer’s disease (early-, middle-, and late-stage), as well as vascular dementia, frontotemporal dementia, or Huntington’s disease.
The key here is ‘early’ – early intervention is focused on planning for all scenarios, which allows for flexibility and less stress and anxiety for the whole family. Because the early stages of dementia happen silently in the brain before symptoms are exhibited, early intervention is ever more important and ideally happens as soon as those changes become visible, increasing your chances of implementing protocols that can support your loved one’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Intervening at later stages limits a family’s choices as they are rooted in short-term problem-solving and crisis management, and only puts undue pressure on the whole family.
Four key benefits of early intervention
1. Age your loved one at home longer, and delay or avoid nursing home admission.
The earlier the need for memory care is recognized, the greater the possibility that your loved one can live independently and grow older in their own home and community, in a way that is safe and comfortable. In a study of a memory clinic tailored to diagnosing and treating Alzheimer’s earlier in the course of the disease, researchers found that “a focus on pre- and postdiagnostic counselling and psychosocial interventions delayed institutionalisation by a median of 9 months, compared to matched controls.”
Keeping your loved one home instead of moving them into a nursing home will require the support of a Care Team, the complete support system that surrounds an individual to help them as they age. This might include family and friends as well as professional caregivers and medical providers. In a study to determine the impact of spouse caregivers on delaying nursing home placement, researchers concluded that “A program of counseling and support can substantially increase the time spouse-caregivers are able to care for AD patients at home, particularly during the early to middle stages of dementia when nursing home placement is generally least appropriate.”
2. Promotes your loved one’s physical safety.
Ignoring signs of memory loss and delaying the implementation of care will put your loved one in physical danger. From forgetting to turn off the stove to leaving their home and forgetting where they are, the lack of support they need to promote their safety will increase their chances of physical harm.
Because of the effects dementia has on one’s sense of awareness, it is essential to address care needs early and then re-assess them at regular intervals with the help of your Care Team. This will ensure measures are in place to keep your loved one safe, especially if they live independently.
3. Opportunities to enroll your loved one in clinical trials.
One of the biggest roadblocks researchers come up against when building quality clinical trials in this field is recruiting subjects early enough in their disease progression. If desired, your loved one can take part in clinical trials to both support their condition as well as contribute to the greatly-needed research.
Participation in clinical trials could mean your loved one is receiving early access to new treatments – many new medications are only available to trial participants – and thereby access to possible medical benefits. Engaging in trials also means that you’ll be at the forefront of intervention strategies and gain access to some of the best clinical teams at leading medical institutions.
Clinical trials in this field have focused on various aspects of dementia disease progression, such as the intricacies of amyloid plaque buildup in the brain and the role of nutrition and supplements.
4. Empowers families to make more effective decisions that align with their loved ones’ wishes.
What your loved one wants and needs are your family’s top priorities. By intervening early, you are more likely to make decisions that are centered on what’s best for your loved one and less likely to make decisions you may regret or feel resentful of.
Plus, early intervention increases the chances that your loved one can participate more fully in their own care. In a study focused on why early diagnosis of dementia is important not only for individuals but also for the greater healthcare system, researchers emphasize that “people can plan ahead while they still have the capacity and thus participate in their own legal, financial, and future support/care options and treatment and make their wishes known to family members.”
Caregiver stress and burnout are very real. Acting early gives your family the chance to get the support you will need as well as learn about their new role. Surveys have found that most people experience relief, not distress when they receive confirmation of their loved one’s condition.
Whether you have already begun speaking with your loved one about their memory loss or you are now ready to take that step, an experienced memory care coach can help you and your family get organized and take action. Lizzy Care offers personalized support and guidance from experts in memory care, working with families to support their loved ones in the ways that work best for them.