World Alzheimer’s Month

Named after Dr. Alois Alzheimer, Alzheimer’s is an irreversible, progressive brain disease that slowly destroys a person’s memory and thinking skills. In most people, symptoms may first appear in their mid-60s. Early-onset Alzheimer’s occurs between the ’30s and mid-’60s but is extremely rare.

Dr. Alzheimer met Auguste Deter, a 51-year-old woman who was not getting better despite doctors’ best efforts to treat her hallucinations, paranoia, and memory loss. Deter eventually died at age 55. Dr. Alzheimer requested that her brain be sent to his lab in Munich to perform a thorough examination. Alzheimer discovered significant shrinkage of the cerebral cortex, which involved memory, language, judgment, and overall thought process. He also found multiple abnormal clumps known as “amyloid plaques” and the tangled bundles, now called neurofibrillary. While the amyloid plaques had been seen in elderly subjects, the neurofibrillary discovery was unprecedented. It was Alzheimer’s boss who named this advanced senile dementia after his protégé.

Though symptoms may vary from person to person, memory problems are one of the first signs. Other symptoms include difficulty finding the right words, vision issues, and impaired reasoning or judgment. In time, individuals may have trouble doing everyday things like driving a car or cooking a meal. They may have the same question repeatedly, get lost easily, or lose things. In some cases, as the disease progresses, some people may become angry or violent.

As a caregiver, you cannot stop Alzheimer’s-related changes in personality and behavior, but you can learn to cope with them. Here are a few tips:

  1. Keep things simple. Ask or say one thing at a time.
  2. Have a daily routine, so the person knows when certain things will happen.
  3. Reassure the person that they are safe and you are there to help.
  4. Do not argue with the person.
  5. Try not to show your frustration or anger. If you get upset, take deep breaths and count to 10. If it is safe, leave the room for a few minutes.
  6. Try using music, singing, or dancing to distract the person.
  7. Ask for help. For instance, say, “Let’s set the table” or “I need help folding the clothes.”

Finally, remember to take care of yourself. Join a caregiver’s support group, take breaks daily, spend time with friends, and keep up with your hobbies and interests.

If you have questions, talk with your loved one’s healthcare provider.

Carmen Phillippi, APRN-CNP
Comanche Family Care


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