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What is Alzheimer’s disease?

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia, affecting around six in every 10 people with dementia in the UK. Some people can have more than one type of dementia, for example, they might have Alzheimer’s as well as vascular dementia or dementia with Lewy bodies.

Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of ageing, but the chances of developing the disease do increase the older we get. The majority of people who develop the disease are over the age of 65. Sometimes, Alzheimer’s can affect younger people.

As we age our brains naturally shrink a little and our thought processes slow down. However in Alzheimer’s disease, changes that occur in the brain are different to the changes seen in normal ageing. These changes include the build-up of two proteins, called amyloid and tau. Although researchers don’t yet have a complete understanding of what triggers this, both proteins are involved in the development of Alzheimer’s. This damage affects how our brains work and leads to the symptoms of Alzheimer’s.

Alzheimer’s often develops slowly over several years, so symptoms are not always obvious at first. In the early stages of the disease, it can also be difficult to distinguish memory problems associated with Alzheimer’s from mild forgetfulness that can be seen in normal ageing.

Typical early symptoms of Alzheimer’s may include:

  • Memory problems like regularly forgetting recent events, names and faces.
  • Becoming increasingly repetitive, e.g. repeating questions after a very short interval or repeating behaviours and routines.
  • Regularly misplacing items or putting them in odd places.
  • Confusion about the date or time of day.
  • People may be unsure of their whereabouts or get lost, particularly in unfamiliar places.
  • Problems communicating or finding the right words.
  • Some people become low in mood, anxious or irritable. Others may lose self-confidence or show less interest in what’s happening around them.

As the disease develops

Alzheimer’s develops over time, but the speed of change varies between people.
As Alzheimer’s progresses, symptoms may include:

  • Memory and thinking skills. People will find that their ability to remember, think and make decisions worsens.
  • Communication and language become more difficult.
  • People may have difficulty recognising household objects or familiar faces.
  • Carrying out day-to-day tasks becomes harder, for example using a TV remote control, phone or kitchen appliance. People may also have difficulty locating objects in front of them.
  • Changes in sleep patterns often occur.
  • Some people become sad, depressed or frustrated about the challenges they face. Anxieties are also common, and people may seek extra reassurance or become fearful or suspicious.
  • People may have problems walking, be unsteady on their feet, find swallowing food more difficult or have seizures.
  • People may experience hallucinations, where they see or hear things that are not there. Others may believe things to be true that haven’t actually happened, known as ‘delusions’.
  • People gradually require more help with daily activities like dressing, eating and using the toilet.

Diagnosing Alzheimer’s is important. It means you can get the right support and treatments. It also means you can plan for the future. If you are worried about your memory or health, you should talk to your doctor.

If your doctor suspects Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia, they may refer you to a memory clinic or another specialist clinic.

Currently there is no way to diagnose any type of dementia with 100% accuracy. Your doctor will make a clinical judgement about the most likely diagnosis to explain your symptoms based on the information they collect from these assessments and tests.

If you are assessed for the possibility of having Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, you can choose not to know the diagnosis. You can also choose who else can know about your diagnosis.

People with Alzheimer’s disease might benefit from taking some prescription medications like a cholinesterase inhibitor. These medications do not slow down progression of Alzheimer’s but are used to treat some of the symptoms people have.

Alzheimer’s has a huge impact on someone’s life, as well as on their family and carers.
There is practical and emotional support available to help.
Accessing services and support can make a real and positive difference to someone with dementia and their family. Some services are provided by local authorities, others can be arranged through your doctor.

Improving fire safety at home for people with Alzheimer’s

Fire safety at home is an important issue for everyone and particularly for people living with Alzheimer’s getting the right help could make a big difference to how long someone is able to remain independent.

Very often the person will have lived in their area for a long time will know all their neighbours and their surroundings will be familiar. If as a result of their smoking risk they had to be taken away from those familiar surroundings that would be a great shame as it would add to their confusion and would impact further on the person’s wellbeing.

For a smoker NWFRS will install smoke alarms, fire resisting ashtrays and provide fire retardant bedding and throws for the furniture, as a result of which a smoker may be able to stay at home longer

Focus on prevention

The Fire and Rescue Service have become much more focused on prevention in the last 15 years and they increasingly recognise that some people - including older people and people with Alzheimer’ and Dementia - need additional support.

One of our team will arrange a visit to the home and conduct a Safe and Well Check, providing smoke alarms, fire retardant bedding packs and other equipment, they also put people in touch with agencies that can offer additional safety measures.

Every person’s circumstances is unique and as a result has different needs. Each visit we carry out will be tailored specifically to that person's needs and wishes.' Once the person is known to us we can work with them and our partners to put safety measures in place.

Fire hazards

Because of the nature of the illness fire becomes more of a risk as the Alzheimer/Dementia progresses for a number of reasons.

  • People with dementia can go back to old ways of doing things:
  • Using old-fashioned chip pans
  • Putting electric kettles on the hob, causing them to melting and start a fire, or leaving electric or gas heaters near to curtains or furniture, using these fires to dry their clothes.
  • Forgetfulness or confusion about how to use equipment such as microwaves can also cause problems.
  • Getting the time muddle up putting things on for far too long or confusing seconds and minutes

In case of fire

People with Alzheimer’s/Dementia may find it more difficult to escape or understand the situation if a fire starts.

Once a person is known to the Service as vulnerable, we can put a note on the 999 Control System that will come up if there's a callout to their home, so the firefighters attending the incident will know ahead of their arrival that there is someone living at the address who is vulnerable.

All fire and rescue services have a duty to provide fire safety advice. If you would like further advice please get in touch with North Wales Fire and Rescue service to explain yours or your relative’s situation and ask us for advice.

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