If you love someone who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, you might already know that November is National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month. Raising awareness about this devastating disease is a mission I personally care deeply about because it is what took my grandfather’s life. Throughout the course of his illness, I watched as this once-loving man slowly became withdrawn and angry, ultimately unable to care for himself. The effects of his disease threatened to tear my family apart.
Following my grandfather’s diagnosis, I decided to learn everything I could about this disease. I believed learning as much as I could about this progressive disease was crucial, so I read as many resources as I could get my hands on. I joined the Alzheimer’s Association. I spoke to physicians. As a nurse, I made it my mission to take all I learned and do what I could to educate others about this debilitating disease.
Alzheimer’s disease begins slowly, usually affecting short term memory first. Sufferers initially make excuses for their forgetfulness when they are questioned, saying they don’t feel well or that they have had a bad day. Over time, they become quieter and more withdrawn. They understand that there is something wrong and, out of fear of embarrassment, they engage in social activities less and less. Fear can give way to anger, causing them to lash out at their friends and family.
As your loved ones age, they may show signs of memory loss that worry you. Be vigilant, but do keep in mind that ordinary, age-related memory loss is not the same as Alzheimer’s memory loss. Common issues like misplacing keys, forgetting a phone number or the name of an acquaintance, becoming easily distracted, or occasional difficulty finding the right word are all indicators of age-related memory loss.
By contrast, Alzheimer’s memory loss is characterized by trouble making choices, poor judgment, forgetfulness about how to do simple, repetitive tasks (e.g., tying shoes), becoming lost or disoriented in familiar places, difficulty following directions, personality changes, garbled or nonsense speech, or an inability to learn new things. As you can see, these symptoms are more severe than signs of age-related memory loss.
Researchers continue their search for answers, but at this point, there is no cure. The brain is an incredibly complex organ, and any number of factors could contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s disease. However, each year there is news of new discoveries and advances. I am hopeful that a cure will be found, if not in my lifetime, then perhaps in my children's.
Alzheimer’s disease is no respecter of gender, race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic standing. As a matter of fact, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, it is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States. There are 5.4 million Americans currently living with Alzheimer’s, and an estimated 5.2 million of them are age 65 and older.
My grandfather passed away in 1998 at the age of 103, so his disease was part of our daily reality for years. I will not say it was ever easy, but as time passed and we learned more, my family and I became better equipped to meet his needs. If you have a loved one who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease, keep these things in mind:
- Alzheimer’s affects adults, so don’t talk to them like they are children.
- Choose simple words and concepts.
- Make eye contact when speaking, allow time for them to respond, and do not interrupt.
- Minimize distractions or noise.
- Know your loved one’s habits and history so you are able to notice and respond to changes in their health.
- Give them one item of food at a time so you don’t overwhelm them with options.
- Install an alarm that chimes when doors or windows open.
- Caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s can be very stressful, especially if you do not understand how it changes a person. Be sure to ask their doctor questions and find out how best to respond and care for them.
- Join a support group.*
- Check out local respite care facilities so you can take physical and mental health breaks when needed.
If you are caring for someone with Alzheimer’s Disease, you do not have to face it alone. If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to send me an email.
Health & Wellness Director Liberty HealthShare
*Linking Disclaimer: The Alzheimer's Association is not responsible for information or advice provided by others, including information on websites that link to Association sites and on third party sites to which the Association links. Please direct any questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.