Ah Alzheimer’s

June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness month and a good time to talk about Alzheimer’s and dementia, what we know, and how we can help our loved ones and ourselves face the challenges of living with brain impairment.

First to clarify; the difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia, which isn’t a disease in itself, but a broad set of neurological symptoms (or syndrome) which primarily affects memory, and other cognitive functions serious enough to affect day to day living. Some symptoms besides memory loss include personality and behavioral changes, and inability to plan, organize, or communicate. Judgement is impaired, as is attention, spatial skills and problem solving. In the early stages, the person may have difficulty remembering recent events, conversations, or names. They may be apathetic, and can become depressed. In the middle stages they become disoriented to time and place. Ultimately, in the later stages, they will be unable to swallow, speak, or walk.

Dementia syndrome can have a physiological basis caused by physical changes such as strokes (vascular dementia), or non Alzheimer’s disease such as Parkinson’s, hydrocephalus, Huntington’s, and others. 60–80% of those with dementia symptoms do have AD. 20% of dementia is treatable and reversible (usually due to hormonal or vitamin imbalance) but usually patients will get progressively worse over time.

Alzheimer’s disease is a slowly progressing brain disease which disrupts normal brain function due to plaques (beta-amyloid protein fragments), tangles (twisted strands of tau in the brain), and brain cell damage, all resulting in brain death. The disease is present before symptoms are apparent. There is recent promising research being done to disrupts the formation of tau.

If you’ve gotten this far, you’re probably thinking, this is awful! And, while it is very challenging, after having worked with Alzheimer’s and dementia for so many years, I can say honestly I think there is a lot we can do, at every stage, to improve the persons quality of life, and that of those who love and care for them as well!

Some things are obvious, such as eating as healthily as possible, and getting regular exercise. For as long as possible, we want to try to mentally stimulate too, with games or puzzles. But one of the biggest things, and one of the hardest, is for you, the loved one, to keep a good attitude. To do this, its important to practice self care to whatever extent you can! Get someone to cover for you so you can get out alone and clear your head, even if its a walk around the block. Join a support group with others who are facing the same day to day challenges, and to learn new coping skills. You will be more effective and fully present if you can make time for you!

Something I see a lot is people isolating. I believe this is both unnecessary, and detrimental. Its important to honor a persons natural tendencies in regards to socialization, but I’d ere on the side of more is better and see how they respond. Given a bit of time, even formerly non social people tend to thrive and be happier for human contact. And if its outdoors, so much the better! Fresh air and nature are good for everybody and every body!

‘Everything old is new again’! One of the most amazing things to witness is to watch someone relax when you pull out old songs, favorite stories, photos, prayers, anything from a time your loved one sees as comforting, happy and safe.

Some of my most treasured moments have been with people with Alzheimer’s/dementia. To me, elders are a treasure trove of experiences I will never know! I’ve been so enriched hearing stories of another time first hand! And, I’ve been astounded at the deep insights a person can have when all the filters are gone. I’ve also learned that if I really listen, I can sometimes uncover the message behind the words, even the ‘NO!’. What if ‘I don’t want to bathe’ really means, I’ve become terrified of water’? If we can think about what’s behind the ‘no’, we can take steps to alleviate that fear by making adjustments to our routine. (In another post, I’ll give tips on the things I discovered to be helpful over the years.)

I can’t imagine how frightening it must be to have dementia. But I do know that we can help in many ways to help face the fear, and to give the best quality of life possible, under the circumstances, and that we’ll be better people for it.

June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness month and a good time to talk about Alzheimer’s and dementia, what we know, and how we can help our loved ones and ourselves face the challenges of living with brain impairment.

First to clarify; dementia isn’t a disease in itself, but a broad set of neurological symptoms (or syndrome) which primarily affects memory, and other cognitive functions serious enough to affect day to day living. Some symptoms besides memory loss include personality and behavioral changes, and inability to plan, organize, or communicate. Judgement is impaired, as is attention, spatial skills and problem solving. In the early stages, the person may have difficulty remembering recent events, conversations, or names. They may be apathetic, and can become depressed. In the middle stages they become disoriented to time and place. Ultimately, in the later stages, they will be unable to swallow, speak, or walk.

Dementia syndrome can have a physiological basis caused by physical changes such as strokes (vascular dementia), or non Alzheimer’s disease such as Parkinson’s, hydrocephalus, Huntington’s, and others. 60–80% of those with dementia symptoms do have AD. 20% of dementia is treatable and reversible (usually due to hormonal or vitamin imbalance) but usually patients will get progressively worse over time.

Alzheimer’s disease is a slowly progressing brain disease which disrupts normal brain function due to plaques (beta-amyloid protein fragments), tangles (twisted strands of tau in the brain), and brain cell damage, all resulting in brain death. The disease is present before symptoms are apparent. There is recent promising research being done to disrupts the formation of tau.

If you’ve gotten this far, you’re probably thinking, this is awful! And, while it is very challenging, after having worked with Alzheimer’s and dementia for so many years, I can say honestly I think there is a lot we can do, at every stage, to improve the persons quality of life, and that of those who love and care for them as well!

Some things are obvious, such as eating as healthily as possible, and getting regular exercise. For as long as possible, we want to try to mentally stimulate too, with games or puzzles. But one of the biggest things, and one of the hardest, is for you, the loved one, to keep a good attitude. To do this, its important to practice self care to whatever extent you can! Get someone to cover for you so you can get out alone and clear your head, even if its a walk around the block. Join a support group with others who are facing the same day to day challenges, and to learn new coping skills. You will be more effective and fully present if you can make time for you!

Something I see a lot is people isolating. I believe this is both unnecessary, and detrimental. Its important to honor a persons natural tendencies in regards to socialization, but I’d ere on the side of more is better and see how they respond. Given a bit of time, even formerly non social people tend to thrive and be happier for human contact. And if its outdoors, so much the better! Fresh air and nature are good for everybody and every body!

‘Everything old is new again’! One of the most amazing things to witness is to watch someone relax when you pull out old songs, favorite stories, photos, prayers, anything from a time your loved one sees as comforting, happy and safe.

Some of my most treasured moments have been with people with Alzheimer’s/dementia. To me, elders are a treasure trove of experiences! I’ve been so enriched hearing stories of another time first hand! And, I’ve been astounded at the deep insights a person can have when all the filters are gone. I’ve also learned that if I really listen, I can sometimes uncover the message behind the words, even the ‘NO’! What if ‘I don’t want to bathe’ really means, I’ve become terrified of water’? If we can think about what’s behind the no, we can take steps to alleviate that fear by making adjustments to our routine. In another post, I’ll give tips on the things I discovered to be helpful over the years.

I can’t imagine how frightening it must be to have dementia. But I do know that we can help in many ways to give the best quality of life possible, under the circumstances, and that we’ll be better people for it.