by KImberly Allen R.N.
Alzheimer’s Disease is a chronic form of dementia that is progressive in nature for which there is no cure. Those most commonly affected are over 65 years and some decline in memory and cognitive function is expected as part of the aging process. A person with Alzheimer’s disease doesn’t occasionally forget where they put their keys, the memory loss is progressive. Learning and understanding the warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease can lead to early diagnosis and early diagnosis is the key to effective treatment.
As the disease progresses the ability to live safely and independently are seriously impaired. People with Alzheimer’s disease become very good at hiding their impairment putting their safety in jeopardy. These days with the ability to travel thousands of miles in a few hours many families live miles apart.
When working as a home health nurse, I received a call to go assess a 78 year old woman for dementia and safety issues. She had been found wandering outside in the middle of the night in her nightgown and slippers – it was -20 degrees below zero! During our first conversation she answered questions about her family correctly, however she did become distracted very easily. She was a widow with one son that lived several states away. I called the son and voiced my concern that I felt she might have Alzheimer’s disease and he responded by telling me he called her every week and he hadn’t noticed any problems. This was not an unexpected response, it wasn’t the first time I’d had to call a family member of someone to give news they were not prepared for. I continued to visit his mother and by the end of my third visit I knew the impairment was advanced. When I would ask her what she’d had for dinner she always responded the same, “meat, potato and vegetables.” She could never say what kind of meat or vegetables she had or what she was planning to have.
People with Alzheimer’s especially if it is advanced are very paranoid so when I tried to snoop around the kitchen she was very nervous, especially when I discovered several cold bowls of oatmeal. It turns out oatmeal was the only thing she could remember how to cook and then she would frequently forget that she had made it and it would sit uneaten. So I made a second call to her son and he came to visit for a weekend. She was able to convince him that she was fine and that there wasn’t any problem. It wasn’t until she was picked up by the police after wandering outside in the middle of the night in the freezing cold, again, that her son accepted that she was no longer safe living alone. Most children do not want to believe their parent is no longer able to care for themselves or be the one to take their independence away.
Being told you or a loved one has Alzheimer’s disease is devastating and denial is one of the first reactions, usually followed by anger and fear. Getting diagnosed in the early stages gives you more time to prepare for the future needs of both the patient and the family. Once the diagnosis has been madeit’s important to for a health care team for the patient. Always allow the patient to participate in their care to the extent they are able especially in the early stages as the patient needs to feel as though they still have some control over their life.
Frustration and fatigue are the most common emotions that are experienced by both the Alzheimer’s patient and their families. There are a few simple things that you can do to make things easier for everyone involved.
1. Establish a routine, this makes the day more predictable and less confusing.
2. Schedule extra time, always expect things to take longer than they did before the Alzheimer’s.
3. Limit choices, it’s easier to make a decision if there are only two options.
4. Give very simple instructions, do not expect an Alzheimer’s patient to follow detailed instructions.
5. Minimize distractions so it’s easier for the patient to focus.
6. Be flexible as Alzheimer’s disease progresses you will need to adapt your routine on a daily basis.
After receiving a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease it’s important to reach out to the numerous support systems that are available to assist patient and their families understand and cope with the many changes that are going to be taking place in your lives. The Alzheimer’s association has numerous chapters and a free 24/7 hotline number that provides free information and referrals, you can also access it online.
Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.