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Coping with Alzheimer's Disease

- Thursday, April 25, 2013

What is Alzheimer's disease?

Contrary to popular belief, Alzheimer's disease is not a normal part of ageing. Alzheimer's disease is a neurodegenerative disorder, in other words the disease eventually leads to the death of neurons.

In a patient with Alzheimer's disease these neurotransmitters that send out signals are less in number. An Alzheimer's patient also develops deposits of protein and fiber in the brain that restrict proper functioning. As a result, brain cells cannot send the right signals to the other parts of the brain and ultimately brain cells shrink and die.

Medical research shows that the damage to the brain begins at least 10 years before symptoms. This is the pre-clinical phase where the individual is symptom free. This phase is followed by the Mild Cognitive Impairment phase where the person might appear to be more 'absent minded' than before; following this is the Dementia phase, which in itself has 7 stages.

A person with Alzheimer's has several cognitive disabilities:

  • the person maybe repetitive with their questions/statements
  • the person may have regressed to a different age or may keep alternating between present and past
  • the person may be unable to perform activities requisite for daily living
  • the person may be unable to express themself due to compromised language capacities
  • all executive functions such as logical reasoning, abstract thinking, judgment are affected at the very beginning
  • towards the later stages, the person becomes child-like and usually requires assistance with even their hygiene routine.

Caring for people with Alzheimer's disease:

  • If a loved one is diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, it is imperative that you extend care that is more than medicinal. While medication certainly aid in slowing the decline, human-touch goes a long way too. In most cases, the person diagnosed with Alzheimer's doesn't have insight of what is happening to them, it is therefore important to attend to their symptoms with concern and a non-judgmental attitude.
  • Even simple activities like listening to music or reading the newspaper on a daily basis make a lot of difference. It is important to stimulate all senses.
  • In some cases, the person may still have some insight while in the early stages - the person may be confused about what is happening to them. The constant need to seek help from others for their daily needs might cause some frustration/depression in them. It is important to make them feel accepted and loved.
  • Listening to them with deep empathy, but not sympathy, also helps. Efforts must be made to make the person feel required, needed and useful. Requesting their help in easy, daily chores is not only to make them feel important but will also be a great way to engage them mentally!
  • As you come to terms with an Alzheimer's diagnosis, you may be handling a plethora of emotions. Undoubtedly, you will be worried about how things will change for both you and your loved one. It is common to experience emotions ranging from anger to grief. Give yourself sometime and do not hesitate to ask for help. After all, the more support you have, the better you will be able to cater to the needs of your loved one.

For more information on Alzheimer’s care, contact Spring Arbor.

Times of India