Alzheimer’s disease is an incurable illness, which will gradually ravage a patient’s brain functions as they relate to memory, sound judgment, and the ability to effectively communicate and reason. At times, advanced cases of the disease will suffer from hallucinations, extreme anxiety which may lead to physically violent episodes of acting out, as well as extreme suspicion of others. The disease itself is not fast moving. At times the term may be as short as three years, while at other times it may be as long as twenty years.
During this decline in brainpower, the patient will experience a plethora or feelings. At the top of the list are helplessness, anger, and a feeling of extreme worry – “what if” is a term very often uttered by those in the early stages of the illness and as a caregiver, you will most likely have to bear the brunt of these emotions. While it is not always easy to deal with your loved one’s feelings, it is compounded by your own feelings of despair that you may very well experience as you see your vivacious loved one gradually decline.
Here are some common sense suggestions on how to keep your own feelings in check, even if your loved one no longer can.
At the onset of the disease, the effects are extremely mild and may sometimes be mistaken for age related changes. Brief memory lapses, such as a search for the car keys or house keys may give hints to the patient that something is changing in the way they are functioning in their everyday lives. At this point it is not uncommon for some to simply not think about Alzheimer’s disease, while others may wish to discuss it with their families. If your loved one approaches you with such thoughts, it is important to not just negate any veracity of their fears, but instead to hear them out, and support their decisions. This may be a time that your loved one will want to discuss your taking over financial responsibilities for her or him, and while this may make you feel uncomfortable at the beginning, please be assured that this is simply a natural progression in your relationship with your loved one. Overcome your own anxiety with this reassurance and also by reassuring your loved one that you will be there for her or him.
As the disease progresses, so will the memory lapses. It will soon be evident to most that your loved one is suffering from a form of dementia. You will notice that she or he will have a hard time finding the right words to use and names oftentimes present a problem. Your loved one may begin to dread social setting and become introvert and refuse a great many initiations. This may be rather irritating to you, and you may feel like your loved one is shying away from you. Please remember that she or he is living in a state of acute fear of embarrassment right now, and withdrawing from you has nothing to do with her or his refusal to spend time with you. Be gentle with your loved one and feel free to voice your own feelings. Come up with solutions to keep your loved one comfortable in social settings, such as keeping gatherings small.
Over time, you will also notice that simple activities, such as grocery shopping or paying bills, will become almost impossible for your loved one. While in the beginning you may not mind doing these chores in addition to your own, after a while this burden may become a heavy one indeed. Rather than allowing yourself to get worn down by the added responsibilities, this is a good time to voice your need for help to your other loved ones so everyone can chip in. This is also a good time to discuss your loved one’s health plans with her or him to see if these plans cover nursing aides who could come in and do some light housekeeping.
As the severity of the disease increases, so will be the severity of the loss of function. Your loved one will now need help with toileting, feeding, and other very basic tasks. At this time you will probably need help from a home health agency. It is not unusual for your loved one to become hostile or express extreme fear or suspicion against you. While this is a normal progression of the disease, it is not easy to cope with this change in behavior, and you will need to get help yourself to deal with your own frustrations, anger, and sadness. Support groups for caregivers are a wonderful opportunity to vent, get help, and bond with others who are in the same boat as you are. Find such as group by contacting your local social services department or by speaking to a hospital in your area.
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