Alzheimer’s Disease

This last week was a difficult one, and yet at the same time, not unexpected. Over the last few years we have watched my Dad’s cognitive ability begin to decline. He’s struggled with memory issues, often confusing my eldest daughter and myself. He’s repeated things he has told us and experienced confusion over timeline of events. He’s ageing; my dad will be turning 85 years old in July and over the years you simply attribute the symptoms to the fact that he is getting older. But, he began having these symptoms with more regularity, losing things, poor judgment, having angry outbursts over things he would never have in the past and becoming more withdrawn. There were a couple of attempts bringing it up to his PCP, but it was basically disregarded as benign and merely one of the symptoms of getting older. However, after a considerable amount of discussion, he agreed to see a neurologist who confirmed our suspicions of Alzheimer’s disease. As difficult as such a diagnosis may be, he now has medication to help improve his quality of life and we are better armed to help him navigate the years ahead. If you have a loved one who is struggling, don’t chalk it up to getting older. Educate yourself and be their advocate so that they can get the help that is needed for the best life possible.

Symptoms of Alzheimer’s

Memory

  • repeat statements and questions over and over
  • forget conversations, appointments, events, and not remember them later, often putting them in illogical locations
  • getting lost in familiar places
  • eventually forget the names of family members and everyday objects
  • have trouble finding the words to identify objects, express thoughts or take part in conversations

Thinking and Reasoning

  • causes difficulty in concentration and thinking, especially about abstract concepts or numbers
  • multitasking becomes difficult
  • challenging to manage finances, balance checkbook or pay bills on time.
  • eventually an Alzheimer’s patient may be unable to recognize or deal with numbers at all

Decisions and Judgment

  • there is a decline in the ability to make reasonable decisions and judgments in every day situations. Ex. a person may make poor or uncharacteristic choices in social interactions or for the weather
  • it may be more difficult to respond effectively to every day problems, such as food burning on the stove or unexpected driving situations.

Planning or Performing Familiar Tasks

  • once routine activities that require sequential steps, such as planning and cooking a meal or playing a favorite game become a struggle as the disease progresses
  • eventually Alzheimer’s patients in advance stages of the disease forget how to perform basic tasks such as dressing and bathing

Changes in Behavior and Personality

  • brain changes that occur in Alzheimer’s disease can affect moods and behaviors
    • Depression
    • Apathy
    • Social Withdrawal
    • Mood Swings
    • Irritability and Aggressiveness
    • Changes in Sleep Habits
    • Wandering
    • Loss of Inhibitions
    • Delusions (believing something has been stolen)

My Dad still has the ability to do many things. I think that is possibly one of the most insidious aspects of the disease because it masks its presence and allows those closest to the person to hang on to the hope that it is only old age. These abilities are clinically referred to as “preserved skills,” and they are defined as: skills which are preserved for longer periods, even while other symptoms worsen. Skills like: reading, listening to books, telling stories, reminiscing, singing, listening to music, dancing, drawing, or doing crafts.

Alzheimer’s is not only difficult for the patient who is experiencing the disease, but also those closest to him; especially those caregivers. The role of caregiver is often the most difficult role, without any time off or help. Those who are in this position should know that they are neither alone, or without resources for help. It is important that you reach out for help if you are feeling overwhelmed, or simply need to talk to others who are dealing with the same things you are. There are many support groups for family and caregivers of patients with Alzheimer’s, which is crucial as you navigate the difficult days ahead.

Links:

Alzheimer’s Home Safety Checklist

Alzheimer’s Association

Community Resource Finder

Alzheimer’s and Dementia Training and Education Center

Alzheimer’s Caregiver Support

Alzheimer’s Support and Resources Tools

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