Alzheimer’s is the biggest epidemic in the world. It is something that will directly affect us all. My mom used to work at this great place called Sunrise Senior Living in Westlake Village, CA. She worked on a floor that they refer to as “The Reminiscences”. Many of my friends live on this floor so I am there to visit often. I find it offensive when people feel it is too hard to care for their elderly love ones and seldom come back to visit. I understand it’s hard seeing your mother revert to your daughter or your father revert to your son but often that’s the course life gives. People are afraid of what they don’t understand. I believe education is the key so let me do my part to spread what I know.
Currently, an estimated 5.3 million Americans of all ages have Alzheimer’s disease. This figure includes 5.1 million people 65 and older and 200,000 under age 65 who have younger-onset Alzheimer’s.
Based on these estimates, approximately 500,000 Americans under age 65 have Alzheimer’s or other dementia. Of these, about 40 percent are estimated to have Alzheimer’s.
One in eight persons 65 and older (13 percent) have Alzheimer’s.
Every 70 seconds, someone in America develops Alzheimer’s. By mid-century, someone will develop Alzheimer’s every 33 seconds.
Women are more likely than men to have Alzheimer’s and other dementias. Fourteen percent of all people 71 and older have dementia.
Women 71 and older have higher rates than men: 16 percent for women and 11 percent for men.
The 2008 estimate is that 2.4 million women and one million men 71 and older have dementia.
The number of Americans surviving into their 80s and 90s and beyond is expected to grow because of advances in medicine and medical technology, as well as social and environmental conditions.
Since the incidence and prevalence of Alzheimer’s and other dementias increase with age, the number of people with these conditions will also grow rapidly.
What is Alzheimer’s?
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia — the loss of intellectual and social abilities severe enough to interfere with daily functioning. In Alzheimer’s disease, healthy brain tissue degenerates, causing a steady decline in memory and mental abilities. Although there’s no cure, treatments may improve the quality of life for people with Alzheimer’s disease. Those with Alzheimer’s — as well as those who care for them — need support and affection from friends and family to cope.
Alzheimer’s disease may start with slight memory loss and confusion, but it eventually leads to irreversible mental impairment that destroys a person’s ability to remember, reason, learn and imagine.
Everyone has occasional lapses in memory. It’s normal to forget where you put your car keys or to blank on the names of people whom you rarely see. But the memory problems associated with Alzheimer’s disease persist and worsen. People with Alzheimer’s may:
- Repeat things
- Often forget conversations or appointments
- Routinely misplace things, often putting them in illogical locations
- Eventually forget the names of family members and everyday objects
Problems with abstract thinking
People with Alzheimer’s may initially have trouble balancing their checkbook, a problem that progresses to trouble recognizing and dealing with numbers.
Difficulty finding the right word
It may be a challenge for those with Alzheimer’s to find the right words to express thoughts or even follow conversations. Eventually, reading and writing also are affected.
People with Alzheimer’s disease often lose their sense of time and dates and may find themselves lost in familiar surroundings.
Loss of judgment
Solving everyday problems, such as knowing what to do if food on the stove is burning, becomes increasingly difficult, eventually impossible. Alzheimer’s is characterized by greater difficulty in doing things that require planning, decision-making and judgment.
Difficulties performing familiar tasks
Once-routine tasks that require sequential steps, such as cooking, become a struggle as the disease progresses. Eventually, people with advanced Alzheimer’s may forget how to do even the most basic things.
Personality changes People with Alzheimer’s may exhibit:
- Mood swings
- Distrust in others
- Increased stubbornness
- Social withdrawal
Alzheimer’s Disease typically develops slowly and causes a gradual decline in cognitive abilities, usually over a span of seven to 10 years. It eventually affects nearly all brain functions, including memory, movement, language, behavior, judgment and abstract reasoning.
Dividing the progression of Alzheimer’s disease into stages can help you plan for the future but remember that not everyone will experience the same symptoms or progress at the same rate. While each individual is different, the progression of his or her disease can be roughly divided into three stages — mild, moderate and severe.
Mild Alzheimer’s disease
People in the early stage of Alzheimer’s may experience memory loss, lapses of judgment and subtle changes in personality. They often have decreased attention span and less motivation to complete tasks. In addition, they may resist change and new challenges, and get lost even in familiar places.
While everyone occasionally forgets words or names during conversations, this problem occurs with increasing frequency in people with mild Alzheimer’s. They may substitute or make up words that sound like or mean something like the forgotten word. They sometimes even avoid talking to keep from making mistakes and appear subdued or withdrawn — especially in socially or mentally challenging situations.
They may also put things in very odd places. For example, a wallet may end up in the freezer, or clothes may go into the dishwasher. They may ask repetitive questions or hoard things of no value. When frustrated or tired, they may become uncharacteristically angry.
Moderate Alzheimer’s disease
In the middle stage of Alzheimer’s, people can’t organize thoughts or follow logical explanations. They lose the ability to follow written instructions and often need help choosing proper clothing for the season or occasion. Eventually, they’ll require help getting dressed because their confusion may cause them to put their pajamas on over their daytime clothes or their shoes on the wrong feet. They may also have episodes of urinary or fecal incontinence.
It’s usually during this stage that people start having problems recognizing family members and friends. They may mix up identities — thinking a son is a brother or that a spouse is a stranger. They may become confused about where they are and what day, season or year it is. They become unable to recall their address or phone number.
Because they lack judgment and tend to wander, people with moderate Alzheimer’s disease aren’t safe on their own. They may exhibit restless, repetitive movements in late afternoon, or continually repeat certain stories, words or motions, such as tearing tissues.
Problems with communication worsen during the moderate stage of Alzheimer’s. This can lead to a variety of challenging behaviors, including:
Paranoia that sometimes provokes accusations of infidelity or stealing
Agitation, frustration or anger that can lead to cursing, kicking, hitting, biting, screaming or grabbing
Severe Alzheimer’s disease
People in the last stage of Alzheimer’s require help with all their daily needs. They lose the ability to walk without assistance and then the ability to sit up without support. They are usually incontinent and may no longer speak coherently. They rarely recognize family members. Swallowing difficulties can cause choking, and they may refuse to eat.
The rate of progression varies widely among individuals. For some, severe dementia occurs within five years of diagnosis. For others, it can take more than a decade. On average, people with Alzheimer’s live for eight to ten years after diagnosis. Some live as long as 20 years. Most people with Alzheimer’s don’t die of the disease itself, but of pneumonia, a urinary tract infection or complications from a fall.
If you are someone caring for a love one living with Alzheimer’s PLEASE:
Remind yourself frequently that dementia or Alzheimer’s is not their nor your fault. They did not ask for this to happen to their mind. But also help yourself come to the realization that their “old life” no longer exists and changes in personality are to be expected.
Write in your journal every day the memories you have with this individual when their life was good. These will help you to keep them alive in your mind while you begin to grieve them.
If you find yourself getting frustrated, in which you will, take frequent short breaks to alleviate the constant building of irritation in your mind. Keep in mind, you cannot care for a loved one with a mental disease by yourself. You need to be able to ask for help to allow yourself some time to take a break.
Remind yourself your loved one has come to depend on you for care. Whether they realize it or remember it, they are depending on you. The have essentially become a child and you are their parent.
They may repeatedly have the same conversation with you. That is okay. Your reaction will control the situation. Pick your battles. Most are not worth beginning. It will only cause frustration and anger for both of you.
Talk to others about your situation on a daily basis. Other people that are not involved will help you to find humor in your particular situation.
KNOWLEDGE IS POWER.