Alzheimer’s disease, (AD), is an irreversible, progressive brain disease that slowly destroys memory and eventually the ability to carry out the simplest tasks. The disease is characterized by memory loss, impaired judgment, loss of language skills, and personality changes. These changes can lead to unusual and unpredictable thinking and behavior. It not only affects the person diagnosed with AD but also those caring for them. Caring for a person with Alzheimer’s is a difficult task that can become overwhelming at times- it takes patience and flexibility. Each day brings new challenges as the caregiver copes with the patient’s new patterns of behavior. Although many people are able to retain their independence for some time, some may require more help performing daily activities. There may be times when the person can function almost normally and then other moments where they may be very dependent. The approach to taking care of a person with Alzheimer’s disease is dependent on their symptoms and progression. Alzheimer’s disease is generally divided into three stages: early, middle and late. Most commonly, symptoms are predictable, moving from mild to more severe, as they advance through the stages. Symptoms may show 3-5 years before diagnosis. Being familiar with the symptoms can help to determine the necessary assistance for the person with AD and their family caregiver. They may exhibit the following symptoms and behaviors:
- Memory loss that disrupts daily life.
- Challenges in planning or solving problems.
- Difficulty completing familiar tasks.
- Confusion with time or place.
- Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships.
- New problems with words in speaking or writing.
- Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps.
- Decreased or poor judgment- difficulty making wise decisions; may be easily swayed by others.
- Withdrawal from work or social activities.
- Changes in mood and personality.
- Denial that anything is wrong.
- Sleeping during the day and being wide-awake at night
- Withdrawal from social situations and general apathy; trouble initiating an activity.
During the early stage, both the caregiver and the person with Alzheimer’s will need to take time to adjust to the diagnosis. One of the biggest struggles caregivers face is dealing with the symptoms and the difficult behaviors of the person they are caring for. They must learn how to manage challenging behaviors, improve communication skills and keep the person with Alzheimer’s safe. Many caregivers have found it helpful to use strategies for dealing with these stressful situations. It is important to learn about the disease and how to differentiate between the disease and the person with AD. The caregiver needs to get appropriate emotional support through counseling, a support group, or other family members. They need to make sure the family is fulfilling their roles. It is also important to map out strategies to meet the financial demands placed on the family. Eventually the person with AD will no longer be able to make medical, financial, and important personal decisions. Legal documents should be completed as early as possible in the disease process.
Just as each person with Alzheimer’s disease progresses differently, the caregivers experience may also differ from person to person. Caregivers must not only focus on the needs of the person with AD, but on their own needs as well. As the person with AD starts to decline in their cognitive, physical, and functional abilities, caregivers tend to become overwhelmed and neglect their own well-being. They need to take time for their own health and get support and respite from caregiving regularly. This will help them sustain their well-being during this caregiving journey. Although caregiving can become all-consuming, a caregiver’s journey can include many rich and life-affirming rewards.The information provided is for general interest only and should not be misconstrued as a diagnosis, prognosis or treatment recommendation. This information does not in any way constitute the practice of medicine, or any other health care profession. Readers are directed to consult their health care provider regarding their specific health situation. Marque Medical is not liable for any action taken by a reader based upon this information.