In-Home Care: Alzheimer’s Disease

Posted in Articles, In-home Care: Diseases and Conditions on January 6th, 2010 | 11,686 Comments

What is Alzheimer’s disease?

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. It is a brain disorder that is characterized by memory loss and cognitive changes. Protein fragments called amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles begin to build up in the brain causing the destruction of nerve cells. The plaques and tangles continue to accumulate and the nerve cells in the brain have a difficult time functioning efficiently and often do not survive.

The exact cause of Alzheimer’s disease is currently unknown. Alzheimer’s disease tends to affect people over the age of 65 and becomes more widespread amongst the elderly population. The most common risk for acquiring Alzheimer’s disease is aging. Alzheimer’s disease is a chronic and progressive disorder meaning it is both long-lasting and will worsen over time.

At this moment, a cure for Alzheimer’s disease does not exist. There are medications that will provide relief from certain symptoms, but the medications will not prevent the disease from worsening. Although there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, there are various treatment options that will better a patient’s mental and emotional state of being. Medical treatment for Alzheimer’s disease will help a patient maintain their independence for a longer duration. It is important for the patient to develop a treatment schedule with a doctor and maintain healthy eating and exercising habits. It is also valuable for an Alzheimer’s patient to participate in social interactions. Being in a healthy and positive environment will help a patient cope with the stresses of Alzheimer’s disease.

What are the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease?

  • Memory loss
  • Language difficulties
  • Disorientation
  • Loss of muscle coordination and balance
  • Changes in mood/personality
  • Depression
  • Difficulty performing familiar tasks
  • Anxiety
  • Sleeplessness
  • Social withdrawal
  • Loss of judgment
  • Confusion
  • Problems with abstract thinking

What type of care does an Alzheimer’s patient need?

The type of care needed will depend on the stage of the disease. Because the disease is progressive, there are more complications as the disease matures. As the disease develops and symptoms worsen, more care will be needed. A caregiver’s duties will vary depending on the situation. Alzheimer’s patients may require part-time care, full-time care, or round-the-clock care.

Symptoms vary from patient to patient. If the symptoms are mild, an Alzheimer’s patient may only require help from family members and friends. When the symptoms are more severe, a live-in caregiver will become necessary. Some patients may experience all of the symptoms at once, while others may suffer from a select few. The rate at which symptoms worsen also differs depending on the patient’s situation. One patient may find that their ability to remember things gets worse every day, while another patient may not experience extreme cognitive changes for many years.

Early Stage:

It is often difficult to determine whether a person has developed Alzheimer’s disease or if they are simply experiencing normal characteristics of the aging process. It is normal for the elderly to occasionally forget what day of the week it is or what time it is, but when the forgetfulness occurs on a regular basis, it may be a symptom of early stage Alzheimer’s disease. It is common for elders to have a hard time recalling memories from the distant past, but Alzheimer’s patients typically lose their short-term memory as well as their long-term memory. Alzheimer’s patients often have difficulties remembering the names of new friends or recalling what happened earlier during the same day.

Often times, Alzheimer’s patients will forget how to do things that they are normally used to doing. They may have difficulties managing their checkbooks, paying bills, or following directions. It is common for elders to forget where they placed their car keys or a recipe, but Alzheimer’s patients will place their keys in strange locations and forget how to follow recipes all together. Those who suffer from Alzheimer’s will often forget having complete conversations and have a hard time recalling events that have taken place recently.

Alzheimer’s patients will begin to experience personality changes. An early sign of Alzheimer’s disease is when a person begins to withdraw from social situations and interactions. Patients become uninterested in things that would otherwise interest them. It is common for Alzheimer’s patients to experience mood swings, feel depressed, or become irritable. Increased restlessness and irritability tend to occur during the later hours of the day. Sundowning is a term used to characterize the evening mood swings that Alzheimer’s patients experience.

If family members and friends are around to help care for the Alzheimer’s patient, hiring a caregiver may not be absolutely necessary. Part-time care will be needed if there is not anyone living nearby to help out. As the disease progresses, however, more care will be needed.
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Middle Stage:

During the middle stage of Alzheimer’s disease, a patient will acquire new symptoms in addition to the symptoms acquired in the earlier stage. A patient’s symptoms in the earlier stage will worsen in the middle stage. Patients will become more confused as to what the time it is, what day it is, where things are, and how to complete routine activities. A patient’s short-term memory will diminish as well as their long-term memory. Mood swings will become more intense. Changes in personality become extreme and patients will often experience intense depression and apathy. It will be difficult to determine how the patient is feeling because their emotions become more and more unpredictable.

Patients will also begin to experience difficulties with communication and language. They will often have problems with reading, writing, finding the right words as they speak, and understanding things that people say.

In earlier stages of Alzheimer’s, patients tend to only experience cognitive disruptions. In the middle stages, however, patients begin to feel physical changes. Patients experience difficulties with mobility and begin to lose their muscle coordination. The simple tasks of daily living become strenuous on the patient’s body.

During the middle stage of Alzheimer’s, a patient’s safety is often put at risk. Patients begin to wander away from their homes and have difficulties finding their way back. Patients forget necessary safety techniques, such as calling 911 or staying out of busy streets. Getting lost is common for patients in this stage of Alzheimer’s, so it is important that someone else is always around to ensure their safety.

Full-time or round-the-clock care will be needed during this stage of the disease. If family members or friends are not around to help, the patient will require round-the-clock care. Often times, patients in the middle stages of Alzheimer’s disease will be placed in a nursing facility.

One of the most important things to remember when caring for a person with Alzheimer’s disease is to make sure they have a consistent daily schedule. Patients often become stressed when they have difficulties remembering familiar things. Creating a daily routine will reassure the patient and relieve some of the confusion and stress. The more a patient is surrounded by familiar environments and situations, the better they will be able to cope with their disease.

It is important that caregivers establish a way to communicate effectively with the patient. Caregivers must be patient and expect that communicating with an Alzheimer’s patient will be a difficult task. Caregivers should acknowledge a patient’s request and find a way to accommodate to their needs. Caregivers should try to maintain a positive attitude; this will prove beneficial for both the caregiver and the patient.

Caregivers must expect that an Alzheimer’s patient will forget things. The patient’s safety is often jeopardized because of this, so it is important that family members, friends, or caregivers pay close attention to safety hazards. For example, patients may forget how to lock their door, turn off the stove, or escape a fire. Having someone constantly around is essential for the patient’s safety. Caregivers, family members, and friends should make sure the patient’s house is as safe as possible. Patients should be surrounded by a safe, loving, and familiar environment.

Late Stage:

Patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease do not typically survive beyond the middle stage. The late stage is often characterized as the “end-stage” of the disease. Cognitive functions and physical capabilities deteriorate. Patients will no longer be able to recognize people, places, or things. Their memory loss becomes so extreme that they will not recognize their family members or even themselves. Patients will be unable to communicate properly. They will often confuse the past with the present. They will no longer be able to function physically. Patients will experience difficulties swallowing, eating, and breathing. They will experience incontinence and will suffer from dramatic weight loss.

Patients will be unable to care for themselves. They will need round-the-clock care and are typically cared for in a nursing facility. Patients in this stage should be treated with much compassion. It is important that the caregiver allows the patient to enjoy the rest of their life as much as possible.

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