Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia which is a brain illness that causes brain nerve cells to die. This results in short term and long term memory loss. The effects of Alzheimer’s expand beyond memory loss and can result in the inability of an individual to concentrate, bathe, get dressed, prepare meals or behave properly.
People between the ages of 65-85 primarily suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, but it has been known to affect younger individuals, this condition is known as Younger-Onset Alzheimer’s. With Alzheimer’s the total brain mass shrinks and the brain tissue has fewer nerve connections and cells. Currently, there isn’t a method to test living brains affected with Alzheimer’s. However, postmortem autopsies demonstrates plaque and tangles in the brain tissue of all people who suffer from Alzheimer’s.
Alzheimer’s affects each person different. In some cases it progresses faster compared to others, and symptoms also vary from person to person. In general, however, the disease takes years to develop slowly becoming more severe as time passes.
Stages of Alzheimer’s
Alzheimer’s consists of three stages: mild, moderate and severe. In the stage of mild Alzheimer’s, people experience memory loss and minor changes in their personality. They generally are unable to solve elementary math equations, create a grocery list or manage a checkbook. People with this stage of Alzheimer’s are generally unable to organize and plan.
Moderate stages of Alzheimer’s usually demonstrate the inability to follow instructions in conjunction with greater memory loss and confusion. This stage of Alzheimer’s also demonstrates the inability to control bladder and bowel functions. This stage can be particularly difficult for families, as it is marked by the inability to recognize friends and family members. People with this stage of Alzheimer’s are generally unable to determine what year or day it is. This stage may also result in someone wandering away from home or displaying drastic behavior and personality changes associated with threats and unwarranted accusations of theft. Individuals with moderate Alzheimer’s should never be left alone.
Severe Alzheimer’s is the stage where people can’t complete daily tasks without assistance. In some cases people are not able to sit up or walk without help. This stage is also marked by the inability to swallow or refusing to eat.
Caring for someone with Alzheimer’s
As Alzheimer’s progresses, the person inflicted with it will need more help. This requires that caregivers have a lot of patience and gain as much knowledge as possible about the disease.
Listed are some things that can be done to learn more about Alzheimer’s disease:
- Converse with a doctor or health care provider that has a specialty in Alzheimer’s
- Read books, articles and watch videos online about caring for someone with Alzheimer’s
- Locate support groups for Alzheimer caregivers
- Gather support from family members and friends willing to help with care giving
Planning ahead for legal, health and financial issues are also important factors that should be addressed to ensure people with AD, have their affairs in order. If possible, plan for the future directly with the person suffering from the early stages of Alzheimer’s while they can still make decisions. This ensures their wishes are accounted for which includes; power of attorney, living trust, [living] will, insurance, debts, fraud protection and more.
Caring for someone with this disease can be very challenging and can take an emotional toll on the caregiver. It may be necessary for at-home caregivers to undergo some level of counseling to prepare for challenges that are certain to manifest. Caregivers, should make an intentional effort to implement stress management techniques and skills to respond to frustrating scenarios, calmly.
If an individual suffering from Alzheimer’s is going to remain in the home, safety is a critical issue.
As someone advances with Alzheimer’s they may forget:
- How to operate the telephone for emergencies
- How to discern between dangerous household items (e.g. household cleaners, medicines)
- Where to locate things
- How to turn-off a stove or shut-off running water
Listed are things should be removed or locked up in the home:
- Child-proof electrical outlets
- Cleaning products and dangerous chemicals (e.g. paint thinner, bleach)
- Remove guns and weapons from the home, or secure them
- Flammable or combustible items (e.g. gasoline cans)
Listed are things that can be done to further safeguard a home:
- Simplify the home by removing unnecessary furniture that can make it hard for someone with AD to navigate
- Remove clutter and piles of magazines and newspapers
- Ensure handrails are sturdy
- Install carpet or safety grips on stairs
- Remove throw rugs from the floor
- Make sure all walking areas have good traction
- Unless someone with Alzheimer’s is in the advanced stages, caregivers can post reminder messages and caution notes over faucets and appliances
- Reduce water heater temperatures to prevent burns
- Pad or replace furniture with sharp corners
- Install functioning smoke detectors in all rooms
- Continuously monitor food in the refrigerator and throw away bad food
Many factors need to be considered when caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease. It is important for the entire family to openly communicate about plans and procedures for taking care of someone with this condition. Caregivers should remain aware of day to day factors like not having too many visitors in the home at one time, keep noise levels for the TV or radio to a minimum. Keep certain foods like sugar, salt and spices away from someone with AD. If the person with AD wears a hearing device, check the settings and batteries often.
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