Providing comfort and support to Alzheimer’s patients can be a difficult, complicated, and stressful process.
Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia that causes changes in the brain leading to memory loss and decreased control over bodily functions. The disease affects mostly elderly patients and can progress over long periods of time. Because of the patient’s increasing needs, care can be financially and mentally taxing.
However, it is also important to remember that a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease does not mean the end of happiness or good times in life. Over five million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, and although the disease is a psychologically painful condition for the patient and loved ones, the progression and effects of the disease do allow for positive times even in the difficult years ahead.
Understanding The Progression of Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s disease is a condition that develops as time passes, and the demands of caregiving change as the symptoms worsen.
Mild or early-stage Alzheimer’s disease brings about the beginnings of memory loss and personality changes. Memory loss covers both short- and long-term memory, as formerly familiar names or events become harder to recall.
The differences between the natural effects of aging and dementia become more apparent in the next stage of the disease, as people suffer from more memory loss and confusion in a variety of situations. Activities as simple as getting dressed or going to the bathroom can become too difficult to perform on one’s own, and they frequently cannot recognize family members and close friends. Personality changes are more dramatic, as patients become more restless and sometimes aggressive or paranoid.
The disease is a fatal one, and the final stage of Alzheimer’s progresses as the patient is able to do less and less. Cases of severe Alzheimer’s disease involve an inability to recognize others, the need for assistance in every daily activity, and sometimes an inability to talk, walk, or sit up.
The Caregiver’s Role Evolves In The Later Stages
The demands of care evolve as the disease develops, so it is helpful to understand what steps are needed at each phase.
The early stages of the disease are an important time for learning about the disease, finding support, and coming to grips with the situation. Alzheimer’s affects not just the patient but also loved ones, so preparation for the later stages is vital. Caregivers need to take measures to make the patient’s environment safer, shift the patient’s responsibilities to other members of the family, and make plans for the financial and legal implications and decisions ahead.
The next stage of the disease will be more demanding in terms of everyday care, so changes must be made to accommodate the patient’s changes in personality and physical abilities. Because Alzheimer’s affects the way patients think and communicate, interactions can change and become more difficult, so training for this can be helpful. Demands for medical care will also increase, so it may be helpful to consider residential care.
At the final stages of the disease, placing the patient in a dementia care facility is usually the best environment available. Hospice centers are the next step, as they are set up to support people at the end of life.
It is also important for caregivers to keep their own health in mind. Putting the needs of a family member with Alzheimer’s disease over your own needs is a noble and generous act, but supporting yourself through the process is just as important as supporting the patient. The quality of care that you can provide is directly related to the care you give yourself, so just as you provide generous care to the patient, be generous in the emotional and other types of support you give to yourself.
Valerie Johnston is a health and fitness writer located in East Texas. With ambitions of one day running a marathon, writing for Healthline.com ensures she keeps up-to-date on all of the latest health and fitness news.