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Caring for someone with Alzheimer's Disease

  • "Literally losing his mind."
  • Scenario: At first, no one gave much thought to dad's mood changes. Sure he seemed grumpier than usual and on more than one occasion he would seem to stare at the remote control for the tv as if it was something he'd never seen before. Mom had died two years earlier, so we just attributed it to his missing her and getting old. He was, afterall, 79. As time went on, and especially after his surgery, problems began to surface. During several visits to his home, I noticed that he would just stand next to the toilet. Then he'd walk into the hallway and urinate on himself. It got to the point where we had to check on him daily. When the neighbor found him wandering several blocks from home, we knew then he could no longer live alone. So I moved him in with my family and me. 
    Things you need to know
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    Let's say a person you are concerned about has just been diagnosed with Alzheimer's. You look back over the period preceding the diagnosis. Were there signs? As they say, hindsight is 20/20. You may recall that your loved one's personality either changed gradually and unnoticeably over time or that the change came on suddenly.

     

    Perhaps the person had trouble articulating words or would frequently walk into a room and not know why. Did you find yourself always reminding the person about simple things that any normal person would have been able to remember? Then the forgetfulness became problematic and more serious. Personality changes became more obvious. Day to day routines required more monitoring. Was the person aware of the changes or in denial? Was the person bitter? Weepy? Resigned? Now imagine the same for yourself. How would you feel knowing that you were literally losing your mind, your sense of self?

     

    It is important to understand that in the early stages, many people can lead active and productive lives.

    As the disease progresses, though, more symptoms come to the surface. The changes are beyond the Alzheimer's sufferer's control. There has been damage done to the brain, irreparable and incurable changes. Over time the dementia worsens. Each Alzheimer's sufferer will experience different symptoms. Many are revealed in the various stages of decline which can manifest over a period of years.

    Unless a person continues on a steady decline of mental deterioration, it is incorrect to label all odd

    behavior as indicative of Alzheimer's. Be sure. Ordering a complete medical workup will help you to be

    sure.

     

    The stages of Alzheimer's

     

    The disease typically affects older adults, ages 60 and over, though younger people have been diagnosed. 

    In the first stage, symptoms may be mild. There may be the classic signs of forgetfulness, disorientation and changes in mood. The person may become reclusive or appear disinterested in activities.

     

    In the middle stage, there may be more pronounced memory impairment, the person may have difficulty with language, and making logical decisions becomes increasingly difficult. There may be sleeping problems, and during waking hours the person may begin to wander away, necessitating a need for 24 hr supervision.

     

    In later stages, the above problems get worse, the person may confuse the past with the present, and he or she may forget familiar persons and places. The person, like a child, may become totally dependent on others to help with routine activities. The person may become bedridden or stop talking.

     

    The final stage may bring devastating loss. There is little or no language, and coexisting medical conditions can make symptoms worse and result in death.

     

    Alzheimer's could take 8-20 years to run its debilitating course. As a caregiver, are you prepared to deal with the needs? Will you be sharing a home with the Alzheimer's sufferer, or managing their care from another town? Whether in town or not, you are going to have to build a group of resources and people that you can call on for information and assistance. It will take a lot of patience, love, kindness and understanding, and maybe even a sense of humor from time to time. You must be caring, consistent and reliable.

     

    The risks to caregivers

     

    It is equally important that you take care of yourself. The stress of taking care of a person with Alzheimer's Disease can take its toll if you do not watch your diet, get plenty of rest, exercise, and take regular breaks. Take advantage of adult day care centers so that you can schedule time for your own needs. Doing so can help you manage the situation and not feel so deprived. Taking advantage of respite care services will help you maintain your own mental and physical well-being. After all, if someone is dependent upon you as a caregiver and you allow something to happen to yourself, what happens to them? Click here for tips on taking care of yourself.

     

    For additional information on behavioral traits of persons suffering with Alzheimer's Disease, click here.

     

    Caregiver main page

     

     

    Alzheimer's Home Page What is Alzheimer's Disease?  The Alzheimer's Diagnosis 
    What if you have Alzheimer's  Tips for early stage Alzheimer's   The Caregiver
    Legal considerations  Financial planning  Beware of fraudulent schemes 
    Treatments for Alzheimers  State and National resources  Personal Stories and Support Groups 
    Books on Alzheimer's Disease  Tennessee Commission on Aging Website