Alzheimer's disease is a pathological condition associated with age (Storandt, 2008). Alzheimer's disease is an extremely important topic in the world of mental health care today. Not only does it cripple our elderly population but its onset can be witnessed in adults before they reach the age of fifty. This makes it a multi-generational problem with health care needs for the elderly and possibly the middle-aged population, as well. Not only will the children of Alzheimer's patients be burdened with the stress of caring for and worrying about their afflicted parents, but they may also become panicked with the idea of becoming afflicted, themselves. This draws a special set of needs, not only for patients with Alzheimer's but also for their children. Researchers need to study the pre-cursors of Alzheimer's disease along with treatments and coping methods for those suffering with the disease as well as their caretakers. There are plenty of things we do know about the disease that we can educate others about and build new theories from. For instance, there are clear differences between normal aging and anomalies in aging as with Alzheimer's and Mild Cognitive Impairment. Let's discuss some of these differences further.
An adult who is experiencing normal signs of aging may experience some free recall problems associated with their episodic memory, such as not being able to remember exactly what time something happened or what color shirt someone was wearing at the time of an event. They also, may experience some common forgetting associated with their gist memory. This forgetting can include a decline in the main idea associations but the categorical associations usually remain intact. An adult who is experiencing abnormal signs of aging, as seen in those who suffer from (MCI) or Mild Cognitive Impairment and Alzheimer's disease will show more significant signs of memory loss as well as personality changes. While it is quite normal to see people experience slight memory deficiencies during the normal aging process, doctors can see actual physical changes in the brains of those afflicted with Alzheimer's disease. These patients develop amyloidal plaques and neurofibillary tangles which actually cause the brain to undergo changes which cause permanent and irrevocable damage to memory, everyday functioning, and personality. Some of the symptoms associated with Alzheimer's disease include a selective decline in memory, progressive states of confusion, a decline in speech, difficulty swallowing and loss of bladder control.
In accordance with diagnosing any mental disorder, people who are suspected of having Alzheimer's disease must meet diagnostic criteria. One of the symptoms seen in Alzheimer's is aphasia. This is the phenomena of not being able to speak at will. Another symptom which is present in patients is apraxia. This is the inability to move at will. Agnosia is also a symptom and this is the inability of the patient to recognize environmental stimuli. As you can imagine, these symptoms are debilitating and distressing for everyone involved.
There are many examples which exhibit the severity and stages of Alzheimer's disease both in text and in audio/visual aids. During my study of this disease, I participated in class discussion and viewed visual documents of people affected with Alzheimer's disease. From what I have witnessed, the effects of Alzheimer's are relatively sudden (symptoms going from minor to severe over five years or so), permanent, and leave the persons family powerless.
Because this disease is directly linked with deteriorating memory, it does benefit the patient to cling to memories, with emphasis on episodic instances, with the help of loved ones prompting them for details. Yes, once Alzheimer's strikes, there is no turning back. However, the longer the affected person can retain their emotional connections to memories and create and recall associations to past events and personal connections, the richer their life will be. After all, the most important thing to the people stricken with Alzheimer's and the most important things to their loved ones is quality of life.
Hopefully, with continued research, doctors will be able to better predict who will get Alzheimer's disease and how to control the rapid progression of the disease. While research is done in the medical community about Alzheimer's, research also needs to progress in the mental health field. People need to understand and sympathize with the families of those afflicted with Alzheimer's and be able to support their needs as well.