Recognizing the symptoms of Alzheimer’s is important. You or some family member may have the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s and not realize it. It is important to know the beginning symptoms so that preparations can be made. Although most likely, a person or a family member will recognize that “something is wrong” during the later stages, it’s best to know when the symptoms first begin. For one reason, it can help a close family member of the person who has this disease to prepare in advance if it is known what is happening. Yes, it truly can be devastating when you discover that either you or your loved one has this terrible disease, but it’s best to find out during the very beginning stages. Since there is no cure, and perhaps little prevention, it is best to be able to know what to do when it strikes. If you or someone else notices that there is a reasonable amount of memory loss like forgetting words, forgetting names of people you know quite well, or not being able to perform certain familiar tasks, then it is time to seek professional help.
The doctor who can best help is either a neurologist or a psychiatrist who can make an accurate diagnosis so treatment can begin if necessary. A popular test for diagnosis is for the doctor to make three unrelated statements that contain very few words, and have the patient repeat what he/she had just said. If the patient has trouble remembering what has just been said, this may be an indication of short term memory loss. The doctor may also ask such elementary questions as, “Who is the president of the United States?” What city do you live in or what street? If the patient performs poorly on these short oral tests, or If there are any doubts, the doctor may proceed to give a pet scan of the brain.
The scans reveal a consistent pattern in Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s strikes the temporal area at the beginning stage of this disease. At the late stage, when patients have extreme trouble talking and interacting with others, the scan shows that the frontal area has been affected. The areas midway between the front and the back of the advanced Alzheimer’s brain control sensation and movement. It is interesting to know that a pet scan of a late-stage Alzheimer’s patient looks very much like that of a newborn.
The Different Stages of Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s is gradually progressive. Memory loss is the first symptom to appear. Motor and sensory functions come at a later stage of this disease. In the early stages, these individuals have problems learning new information and retaining it for more than a few minutes. As the disease progresses, the person has more difficulties learning new things. Although, at the beginning stage, the person affected, has early memory loss, as the disease progresses, distant memories are beginning to be lost. The affected person has difficulty using words that at one time was familiar to him/her. It becomes more difficult for them to do the simple, everyday duties around the house such as using the microwave oven, turning on the oven or stove, or using the washing machine. This lack of such tasks can be the very first indication that something is definitely not right. These individuals will also eventually lose track of time and place.
Eventually, all aspects of their lives become impaired. Some of the activities that they can no longer perform, even in the beginning stages, are such things as: unable to plan meals or make their meals, manage their finances, use the telephone, drive without getting lost . Sometimes they may get confused as to what medication they are to take. This can be one of the first signs that something is not the same, and the person afflicted (if still aware) or a family member ,will have to take some kind of action. This action may mean that it may be necessary to hire a caregiver to help. The family member or other individual involved in this person’s life may have to be aware that eventually it might be necessary to hire someone outside the family, as this can be a terrific burden on a family member. The afflicted person will eventually not be able to bathe or dress him/herself.
In the later stage, there are personality changes such as : irritability, anxiety, depression. They can also have child-like behavior such as poking people, name calling, or just having fun in some kind of silly way. Some of them yell out at night, upon awakening, for no apparent reason.
Some of these afflicted people lose touch with reality and may become psychotic. They can become delusional, have hallucinations, can become aggressive, and often wander outsider their home and get lost. It is at this point, where caregivers may find it necessary to place this individual in a nursing home.
What can be Done to Help Caregivers and Patients With Alzheimer’s Disease
If the diagnosis shows that the patient has Alzheimer’s, the doctor will prescribe the best drugs that is presently on the market. Newer drugs are constantly being developed. At the present, there is no cure for this disease, but medication can slow it down to some degree. Taking vitamin E also is recommended.
Joining a support group for family members and caregivers is very helpful. You can get information by calling the Alzheimer’s Association or look up information on the Alzheimer’s web page.
During the early stages, there are many activities that an Alzheimer’s patient can join. They can attend an art class, a singing group, or any other hobby groups. From my experience with early stage Alzheimer’s, they can join most groups that non-Alzheimer’s people attend. They may still be able to continue with a sport activity that they have been involved in as long as they still maintain good balance. All these activities can help the individual and caregiver from becoming depressed.
Maintaining the patient’s social and family activities as much as and as long as possible is very important. Speaking from a caregiver’s point of view, even if the patient is not totally aware of his/her appearance, it helps if the caregiver can keep up the individual’s appearance. It may be a surprise to know that a little makeup, a nice hair do, an attractive attire, or a well-shaven face can make a difference in attitude of caregivers or for those who visit the patient. This makes for a more enjoyable atmosphere when visiting the patient. It also helps to make the caregiver feel happier when the patient looks well groomed.
Keep daily activities routine and surroundings familiar. Display clocks and calendars to help orient the patient. This is helpful during the early stages.
Caregivers need a break from their daily duties. They should be relieved periodically so that they can get some relaxation and have enough time off to attend to their own affairs.