Senior Care: Preparing for a Life with Alzheimer's
Any time I find myself getting ready Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/radiomacguys/2638366317/for an event or taking a trip, I sit down and start planning for the event or trip. If I find that I am having to deal with a health issue, I do research and try to find out as much about it as I can, so that I can make good decisions. Dealing with Alzheimer's is no different. It will require some planning and knowledge to help make the journey as smooth as possible.
There is a good chance that you know someone who has dementia. It may be a loved one, a friend, or an acquaintance. As life expectancy increases, more of us will be faced with the challenges of this disease. Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the number one cause of dementia. It accounts for more than half of all dementia cases.
Webster defines “dementia” as: "a usually progressive condition (as Alzheimer's disease) marked by deteriorated cognitive functioning often with emotional apathy."
So now we are stepping out on a journey together. This is a journey that we would have never chosen for ourselves, but a journey that must be traveled. Now is the time to prepare for this journey, so when times get tough, you will be ready to face them head-on.
Let's Look at Early Stage AD
Early Stage AD can last anywhere from 2-4 years. Many people do not realize that they should see a doctor during this stage. Sometimes this is caused by the fact that the person with AD is in denial of the fact that they are having problems. They feel that if they don’t acknowledge their problem that it will go away. But this doesn’t do any more good than closing your eyes and thinking that no one can see you.
Seek Medical Treatment Early
Unfortunately, many people doCredit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/14132971@N05/1449135684/ not seek medical treatment during these early years, and this is a tragedy. There are prescription drugs that a doctor can prescribe that will slow down the progression of the disease, and the damage it causes to the brain. Medications cannot stop the disease, but it can slow it down. And, if a cure is ever found, any ground not lost will be ground saved. Also, maintaining brain function for as long as possible will mean a more meaningful life for them and for you.
It Starts Like This
The changes that occur due to the brain damage during this stage begin to affect how someone is able to think and talk. It is during this stage that the person with AD begins to lose a few memories, and unfortunately, they won’t be able to get these memories back no matter how hard they try. The person with AD may have a hard time formulating something they want to say.
Dementia is a medical term that is used to describe damage to the brain. This damage typically causes memory loss, difficulty communicating, unusual behaviors such as pacing, wandering and cursing, and difficulty doing normal activities that they have previously not had difficulties with.
Alzheimer’s disease is just that… a disease. It is not something to be ashamed of. It is not something to hide from. It is something that needs to be faced and dealt with positively and compassionately.
Don't Try To Do It Alone
Hopefully you have family and friends who will step in and help, and you need to allow them to do so. It may be hard to let them help initially; but as time goes on and you find yourself overwhelmed and exhausted, you will be glad to have people helping who have become a part of your normal routine. It will be easier on the one that you are providing care for also. Since those with AD don’t adjust to change very well, especially later, it will be better to get them used to seeing the people who will be helping you.
No One Can Do It As Good As Me!
You may feel like no one can do it as good as you can, and you are probably right; however, this is a journey that you will be making for an extended period of time, and it will not do you or the person you are caring for any good to burn out early on.
If you try to travel this journey alone, you will become tired and lost in all the details that will have to be dealt with. AD not only affects the person who has it, but also all those around them. Plan now for the long term.
I Don't Need Your Help!
During early sCredit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/vtda/4226036906/tage Alzheimer's, the person will experience memory loss and some behavior changes, but they are still able to take care of themselves. The person with Alzheimer's disease will typically fight any efforts you make to help them, because they do not want to admit that they are having difficulties. It will be important for you to check on them occasionally to make sure that they are safe and to keep an eye on the progress of the disease. If you don’t spend a significant amount of time with the person with AD, they become very good at hiding their difficulties and you may miss some of the signs.
What Changes to Look For
The predominant change that you will notice is that the person with Alzheimer's disease begins to forget things, such as what they had for lunch, whether they've even eaten lunch, or whether they have taken their medications. If they take medications, and are not using a pill minder, this would be an excellent time to introduce this into their routine.
Other types of “forgetfulness” that the person with AD may begin to exhibit are: misplacing items or putting them in unusual places, starting something and then forgetting to finish it, or not being able to perform tasks that they have never had trouble with before. Obviously we all have times when we forget, but the “forgetfulness” associated with AD is fairly consistent. Something to consider suggesting to the person who has AD is to begin making lists and notes to themselves, giving them methods to jog their memory and helping them to keep track of things.
Another area of difficulty that you may notice is in the arena of bill paying and or money handling. They may start getting phone calls telling them that they have forgotten to pay a bill. They may forget to include the check with the bill, forget to sign the check, or write an incorrect amount on the check.
The person with Alzheimer's disease may start isolating themselves. They may stop doing activities that they would normally enjoy doing. Examples of this would be that they may quit visiting friends that they used to see frequently, or not going to the senior center to play dominoes or bingo. They may start doing, or not doing, these things because they know something is wrong and they are afraid that someone else will notice.
Now is the time to be there for them and to assure them as much as they will allow. It will be a difficult time for both of you. And it will be a scary time. But, not facing it or dealing with it will not make it go away.
As I said earlier, let's face this issue and deal with it as compassionately and as positively as we can.
Older Comments... (This article was moved from another one of my sites to here, and fully updated April 28, 2012)
(wouldn't want you to miss some of the great comments others have shared!)
Just swallowed my Ginkgo! I had a grandfather who'd suffered from Alzheimer Disease, and a few other more distant relatives.
Never too early to start preventive maintenance on my own brain.
Of course I've got retirement age parents, and so this is something that could concern me closely at some point. Will be reading more!