Alzheimer’s is a physical ailment that damages the brain cells, leading to dementia. The decaying of brain cells causes severe memory loss, as well as reduced thinking skills and emotional capacity. The disease was first discovered by Dr Alois Alzheimer, a German psychiatrist and neuropathologist, in 1906. Dr Alzheimer noticed changes in the brain cells of a woman who died out of a peculiar mental illness. She suffered from memory loss, speech decay, and erratic behaviour. Upon her death, Dr Alzheimer investigated her brain and discovered many abnormal clumps (they are now known as amyloid plaques) and tangled bundles of fibre (now known as neurofibrillary tangles). Therefore, it was concluded that plaques and tangles (the result of protein buildup in the brain) are the main two reasons for Alzheimer’s disease. Loss of connections among nerve cells in the brain is another contributing factor.
Alzheimer’s disease usually begins around the age of 65. This estimation varies, naturally. But experts say that 5 million Americans suffer from this disease by the time they are 65 or older. Of course, there are treatments for this illness. As these treatments have become more advanced over time, doctors have been injecting the missing chemicals into the brains, helping them to receive some signals. Alzheimer’s starts gradually, eventually interfering with daily life. Patients end up totally dependent on another person, unable to do even the simplest of work.
It is the patients’ loved ones who most understand the difficulties that Alzheimer’s patients face. This article is dedicated to those beautiful souls who undertake the full-time job of taking care of these patients with utmost love. Here are 15 things only these loved ones would understand:
1. You know that the person is more than a disease
Your loved one can be your father, or mother, or your partner. Regardless of the relationship you have to that person, you always know that the person means the world to you. This is the person, who at one time loved you and took care of you just like you are doing now. This person is who you have known all your life, even though they will never function like they used to.
2. You use every process of communication to reach your loved one
Your loved one has memory loss, no way to express emotions, or perhaps even worse, your loved one fails to recognise you. It doesn’t mean you stop taking care of him or her. You try your best to communicate with them through different mediums of connection. It can be music, reading books, watching television shows, or talking about daily occurrences. Even a simple touch on the arm can give them the message that they are loved.
3. You cannot argue with your loved one
With the loss of behavioural abilities, a patient is left with little reasoning ability. They may react aggressively at times. You know there is no point in arguing with your loved one. Rather, arguments would lead to more upsetting situations and would frustrate both parties. It is better just to agree with the things they say.
4. You know your person is not changing, but the disease is
It is extremely hard to see the gradual change the person is going through right in front of your eyes. The struggles in language, the lack of communication, the changes in mood, the shift in personality, and all other negative factors come from the disease. It is not the patient’s fault. Your loved one is the same person, even though he or she cannot control the situation anymore.
5. You have to be educated about this disease
I have tried my best to summarise the term Alzheimer’s. But it is more than that. Researchers have been studying this disease for years. Here is a website where you can go and study it more in detail. Becoming more educated about the disease will help you to better understand the person you are taking care of.
6. You must give them independence when possible
If your loved one is in a more mild stage, you should give them some independence to do their own work. They should at least try to do some activities in order to stay active. In these ways, your loved ones can stimulate their brains to carry messages as much as possible. Of course, they will eventually stop being able to accomplish such tasks once they reach the moderate to severe stages. Until then, encourage them to do things like count money, keep a diary, or talk about things they are fond of or remember well.
7. You should develop set routines and schedules
As the illness develops further, it becomes very hard for you and your loved one to keep track of daily routines. Just like nursing a baby, you should have a set rhythm with them. Remember, this person is like a child to you. Keeping a daily routine and schedule will make life much easier. This can help to eliminate confusion and frustration for your loved one.
8. You have to continue with good nutrition
Your loved ones need a proper, balanced diet. Studies have shown that a lack of healthy food can contribute to worsening Alzheimer’s. It is recommended that a patient cut down on refined sugar and increase intake of fruits and vegetables to help better manage the disease.
9. You should plan time for physical exercise
Did you know that physical exercise is extremely beneficial for your loved one? Their bodies need to stay healthy just like yours does. Regardless of the stage they are in (it is better if they start from an early stage since the habits will build as time progresses), you can accompany them on daily walks, gardening, or even dancing!
10. You should maintain the current list of medications
You should take your loved one to regular check-ups. The doctors will fix the medications according to the stage that they are in. It is very important to maintain a list of current medicines. You should take extra caution to see to it that they don’t miss a single dose.
11. You cannot forget that your loved one has emotions too
Yes, they may forget you, they may get angry at you, or they may ignore you for days, but they do have emotions. Your actions and words can have a great impact on them. One of my uncles suffers from Alzheimer’s. He cannot remember anyone, not even his children! But sometimes, he would smile at them, or laugh with them. Check out this article and see for yourself why emotions matter!
12. You have to be realistic in your expectations
Whether it is your expectations for yourself or for your loved ones, you have to be realistic. This is very significant because setting practical goals will make you expect the unexpected. In this way, you won’t feel disappointed as you see your loved one struggle with this disease.
13. You should have fun with your loved one!
Just because your loved one is suffering from a horrible disease doesn’t mean that they cannot have fun. Plan a trip to the zoo, or to the nearest park, and take your family members with you as well. Take plenty of photos, and bear in mind that even though your loved one may not show emotions, they still certainly enjoyed your company!
14. You should ALWAYS remember that Alzheimer’s detection is NOT a death sentence!
It is not the end of the world. No, a patient of Alzheimer’s can live for twenty or more years with the disease. Utilise whatever time you have at hand and make the most out of it. Don’t leave a hollow space that will leave you with regrets.
15. You must love your loved ones as they are now
You should not try to change them, because they will never go back to their old selves. You should embrace them as they are, in their current situations, with their current behaviours, their frequent mood swings, and everything that is related to them. In other words, love them as they are right now!
You should not perceive your loved ones as burdens, because they are not! There will be total life-changing experiences for you as you struggle to cope with your new role. You will get upset and emotionally challenged at times, but always remember that this is a person who has loved you very much. Respect them, love them, and live with them.