Learning about Alzheimer’s disease includes understanding the gradual loss of one’s memory as proteins build up on brain cells. This causes the development of plaques and tangles and there is a loss of connections between neurons (nerve cells) of the brain. Along with memory loss, a gradual diminishing of thinking and reasoning skills takes place with the afflicted person eventually being unable to carry out even simple routine tasks. At this stage the person becomes dependent on others for everything.
Alzheimer’s disease is progressive and terminal. To put it bluntly, Alzheimer’s is incurable and leads to death. Currently, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s. Medicines can only provide temporary relief for some of the symptoms and slow down the spread of the disease. Alzheimer’s occurs most commonly after the age of sixty. Symptoms may appear a decade after the damage to the brain has started. On an average, an Alzheimer’s patient may live for eight years after diagnosis.
In the beginning, the patient exhibits signs commonly seen in old age. He might forget what he just had for breakfast, keep losing things or ask the same question again and again. As Alzheimer’s progresses, the brain loses its ability to form new memories. At this stage the patient may become restless, angry and aggressive. He may start asking for things that he wasn’t even using, insisting that he has misplaced them or that someone has taken them away. There is also the danger of them wandering away and getting lost.
Things only get worse from here. As the brain cells deteriorate and die, the patient becomes lost and confused. He can no longer relate to what is going on around him or even recognize his own family members. He also becomes suspicious of them. An Alzheimer’s patient seems to live in the past. He might start acting like a teenager because in his mind he believes himself to be one. He has no recollection of his having aged, let alone of having gotten married or of even his children. He is trapped in the memories that live in the brain cells that still exist and consequently he lives in those times only.
As the last stage of Alzheimer’s disease sets in, the patient loses the ability to communicate. He becomes withdrawn and depressed. The earlier agitation is replaced by listlessness. He sleeps a lot and when awake often stays motionless for long periods of time. His eyes have a vacant look most of the time. He has difficulty swallowing and loses control of his bladder and bowel movements. He is unable to do anything on his own and requires constant care and attention.
This fatal brain-wasting disease affects more than five million Americans and over 26 million people globally. It also affects the quality of life of the caregivers especially if they are family members. If the patient is frustrated that the people around him don’t get what he’s saying, then they are equally frustrated at their own inability to help the patient. It’s difficult to understand what the patient is talking about and at times even more difficult to give him what he wants. The most important thing that family and friends can do to help an Alzheimer’s patient is be loving and patient. That’s all that they need. Often, that’s the only thing that helps.
The Nurses at Partners in Healthcare are available to talk with you about your in-home care needs including how to stay healthy at home with RN managed affordable care. We are a senior care agency providing elder home care serves in the Orlando area, 407-788-9393.