Caregiver Spotlight: Alzheimer’s – The Disease We Would Like to Forget
Issues surrounding caregiving are important to us here at MedFlight911 in part because many of the patients who use our air ambulance service require some form of convalescent care or end-of-life care. As part of our continued focus on caregiving (see past posts on Caregiver Depression – A Silent Epidemic and 4 Tips for Easing Caregiver Stress), today’s blog is the first of a two-part series on Alzheimer’s disease.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s disease is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States and the 5th leading cause of death for those aged 65 and older. In addition, Alzheimer’s disease is the only cause of death among the top 10 in the U.S. without a way to prevent or cure it. While deaths of from many diseases have decreased in recent years, deaths from Alzheimer’s disease have increased an astonishing 88% between 2000 and 2008.
What I find even more startling than these numbers is the large number of caregivers, patients and even doctors who have little to no knowledge of Alzheimer’s disease or where to turn for help. So, let’s start at the beginning: What is Alzheimer’s disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is one type of dementia. Dementia is a very general term for loss of memory and intellectual and reasoning abilities serious enough to interfere with the activities of daily life. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, accounting for 50 to 80% of all cases.
In Alzheimer’s disease, brain cells degenerate and die, causing a slow and persistent decline in memory and mental function. It’s crucial to remember that Alzheimer’s disease is a disease and not a normal part of aging. While some memory loss is normal with age, the memory loss and mental function decline associated with Alzheimer’s disease is far more debilitating than typical age-related forgetfulness.
Alzheimer’s Warning Signs
Memory loss that disrupts daily life – Memory loss, especially forgetting recently learned information, is one of the most common and easily recognized signs of Alzheimer’s disease. People with Alzheimer’s will often forget important dates and events or ask for the same information repeatedly. Memory cues and reminder notes are often scattered around the house.
What’s a typical age-related change? It is normal to walk into your kitchen and forget what you were looking for; it is not normal to be unable to find the kitchen in your house.
Challenges in planning or solving problems – People suffering from Alzheimer’s disease will have difficulty following a familiar recipe or balancing a checkbook. Familiar tasks will become more difficult and time consuming.
What’s a typical age-related change? It is normal to make occasional errors when balancing a checkbook.
Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure – Some people with Alzheimer’s disease may have trouble driving to a familiar location or be completely overwhelmed by a detour. Items will be put away in odd locations (like the freezer or garbage disposal). Inedible items may be served as a meal. Bathing may decrease or even stop as the steps require to shower can no longer be recalled.
What’s a typical age-related change? Needing help to use new technology is normal. iPhones can be confusing for everyone!
Confusion with time or place – People with Alzheimer’s disease can lose track of dates, seasons and the passage of time. They may dress inappropriately for the weather. They also may lose track of how they got to a location or no longer remember who is president.
What’s typical age-related change? It is normal for elderly people to have difficulty naming the exact date; it is not normal to have difficulty remembering the year.
Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationship – Individuals with Alzheimer’s disease may have difficulty reading or judging distance. Crosswords and other puzzles may become increasingly frustrating and are cast aside. Some people will no longer recognize themselves in the mirror and become frightened. Eventually, individuals with Alzheimer's disease can become lost in their own home.
What’s a typical age-related change? As we age, vision changes related to cataracts, glaucoma, macular degeneration or diabetes are common.
Remember that although there is currently no cure for dementia, treatment and support are available. If you or your loved one is experiencing any of these symptoms, education and information are available 24-hours a day through the Alzheimer’s Association. For more information, please call 1-800-272-3900.