Understanding Alzheimer’s Disease: National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month

By November 9, 2015Dementia

National Alzheimer’s Disease Month is an opportunity to learn more about the disease, not in a clinical manner, but in a way that educates us about the facts so we have a deeper understanding of its impact on the sufferer.

Not all dementia is Alzheimer’s Disease. Alzheimer’s has very specific symptoms that may be attributed to other things. Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) changes the brain. Therefore:

  • Patients don’t have a sense of belonging and don’t remember where they come from. Imagine not knowing your own history, your familial connections, and where you belong in life.
  • Patients lose the ability to use good judgement. This is perhaps one of the least known effects of AD. Suddenly the patient may ask a stranger for a tissue. Now you will understand why.
  • Patients lose the ability to care for themselves gradually. It can begin with something as simple as forgetting how to put the key in the door and end up with the patient needing total personal and physical care.
  • Patients struggle to control basic emotions and functions. Agitation and outbursts are common side effects of AD. Comforting routines and avoiding the situations that cause agitation usually resolve these issues.

Alzheimer’s disease consists of three main stages:

1. Mild, or early stage
In the early stages, people exhibit some memory loss and sometimes changes in their personality. An easy-going person may become irritable or short tempered. The AD sufferer will forget recent conversations and how to do simple things like write out a grocery list or add simple numbers. The early stages of the disease causes behaviors that may leave family members puzzled, such as repeatedly putting things where they don’t belong; keys in the refrigerator, food in the washing machine.

2. Moderate stage
The mid-stage brings more obvious memory loss and confusion. People have more trouble organizing, and following instructions. They may need help getting dressed, become incontinent, and have trouble recognizing family members and friends. They may not know where they are, the day or the year. They may begin to wander, become restless and begin repeating movements late in the day. Personality changes can become more serious; they make threats, accuse others of stealing, curse, kick, and hit another.

The patient suffering from mid-stage dementia may still have moments of clarity. It is important to treat them with dignity. Avoid saying “Don’t you remember?” or “We just discussed this.” If they are asking a question they don’t remember. AD patients are ultra-sensitive and easily shamed.

3. Severe, or late stage
The last stage of Alzheimer’s ends in the death of the person. In this stage, people need help with all their daily needs, may not be able to walk or sit up without help. They may not be able to talk and often cannot recognize family members. They may have trouble swallowing and refuse to eat.

Even though the disease seems to have robbed the person of everything, they can still respond to the touch of another human being. Music will stimulate them. A person in late stage Alzheimer’s should be treated with respect. There is always the chance that the things you say and do are resonating with them at some level.

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