Alzheimer’s Disease: What You Need to Know

Alzheimer’s Disease: What You Need to Know

September is World Alzheimer’s Month, an initiative of Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI). ADI is a collaborative organization of over 80 Alzheimer’s Associations across the globe.  World Alzheimer’s Month is an international campaign to raise awareness, challenge stigma, and encourage people to gain a better understanding of this disease and its effect on global health. It was launched in September 2012 and is celebrated on September 21 of each year.

Transitions Hospice is a committed advocate to this cause and joins in the opportunity to raise awareness within our communities and to reflect upon the impact that this disease has on patients, families, and their loved ones. As a hospice service provider, we work closely with those most affected on a daily basis. Through ongoing patient care and family support, we are acutely aware of the many challenges that people face in these situations. Families often need assistance in finding the care and resources they need to improve quality of life for their loved ones. This includes medical support, education, support groups, social services, spiritual guidance, and a multitude of other valuable resources that are available throughout most local communities.

Let’s take a deeper look: What is Dementia?  What is Alzheimer’s Disease?

Dementia is a collective name for progressive degenerative brain disorders that affect memory, thinking, behavior, and emotion. Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common type of dementia, affecting up to 90% of those living with it. It is an irreversible, progressive, degenerative disease of the brain that damages and eventually destroys brain cells. It leads to loss of memory and impaired judgment, language, orientation, and executive functioning. Over time, the disease causes behavior and personality changes and eventually loss of physical function.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, there are 3 stages of the Alzheimer’s Disease: mild, moderate, and severe decline, as described below.

Mild Alzheimer’s Disease (Early Stage)

In the early stages of Alzheimer’s, a person may function independently. He or she may still drive, work, and be part of social activities. Despite this, the person may feel as if he or she is having memory lapses, such as forgetting familiar words or the location of everyday objects.

Friends, family or neighbors begin to notice difficulties. During a detailed medical interview, doctors may be able to detect problems in memory or concentration. Common difficulties include:

  • Problems coming up with the right word or name
  • Trouble remembering names when introduced to new people
  • Having greater difficulty performing tasks in social or work settings
  • Forgetting material that one has just read
  • Losing or misplacing a valuable object
  • Increasing trouble with planning or organizing

Moderate Alzheimer’s Disease (Middle Stage)

Moderate Alzheimer’s is typically the longest stage and can last for many years. As the disease progresses, the person with Alzheimer’s will require a greater level of care.

You may notice the person with Alzheimer’s confusing words, getting frustrated or angry, or acting in unexpected ways such as refusing to bathe. Damage to nerve cells in the brain can make it difficult to express thoughts and perform routine tasks.

At this point, symptoms will be noticeable to others and may include:

  • Forgetfulness of events or about one’s own personal history
  • Feeling moody or withdrawn, especially in socially or mentally challenging situations
  • Being unable to recall their own address or telephone number or the high school or college from which they graduated
  • Confusion about where they are or what day it is
  • The need for help choosing proper clothing for the season or the occasion
  • Trouble controlling bladder and bowels in some individuals
  • Changes in sleep patterns such as sleeping during the day and becoming restless at night
  • An increased risk of wandering and becoming lost
  • Personality and behavioral changes, including suspiciousness and delusions or compulsive, repetitive behavior like hand-wringing or tissue shredding

Severe Alzheimer’s Disease (Late Stage)

In the final stage of this disease, individuals lose the ability to respond to their environment, to carry on a conversation, and eventually, to control movement. They may still say words or phrases but communicating pain becomes difficult. As memory and cognitive skills continue to worsen, personality changes may take place and individuals need extensive help with daily activities.

At this stage, individuals may:

  • Require full-time, round-the-clock assistance with daily personal care
  • Lose awareness of recent experiences as well as of their surroundings
  • Require high levels of assistance with daily activities and personal care
  • Experience changes in physical abilities including the ability to walk, sit, and eventually, swallow
  • Have increasing difficulty communicating
  • Become vulnerable to infections, especially pneumonia

Caring for people with Alzheimer’s Disease is not easy. Different challenges come with each stage. Here are a few simple tips to consider:

  • Make eye contact and call the person by name
  • Be patient and try to avoid getting frustrated
  • Offer simple step by step instructions, limit the number of choices offered
  • Be aware of non verbal communication (facial expressions, behaviors, etc)
  • Have a daily routine that is consistent
  • Don’t argue or try to reason with a confused person
  • Use humor when you can
  • Try to keep the person active during the day to improve sleep at night
  • Take care of yourself- get enough sleep, eat well, stay connected with family and friends, enjoy outside hobbies
  • Seek out a support group or other resources through your local Alzheimer’s Association Chapter

At Transitions Hospice, we are proud supporters of the Alzheimer’s Association. We are committed to always doing the right thing by raising awareness and fighting the stigma that goes along with Alzheimer’s Disease. The more we know, the better care we can provide.  After all, IT’S ABOUT LIVING!

For more information about Alzheimer’s Disease, please visit www.alz.org.

For more information about World Alzheimer’s Month, please visit www.worldalzmonth.org

For more information about hospice care, please visit www.transitionshospice.com