Alzheimer’s disease, a type of dementia, is an all-encompassing medical condition. It affects every area of a patient’s life - from the way they think, feel, and react to the things happening around them, to their decision-making abilities, memory, and physical functions. All of these changes take a turn for the worse as the disease advances.
Caregivers play a vital role in the care of these patients. Understanding the unique challenges these patients face can help you provide more effective and personalized care.
The effects of Alzheimer’s disease
1. It alters personality.
A dementia patient's greatest and most disheartening loss is not their memory but their personality.
With the changes in brain functions, many of these patients' families claim that their loved one has changed into someone else and is not the same person they once knew. Families are heartbroken because their once gentle and kind-hearted mom has turned into an unkempt, skimpily dressed woman who is swearing loudly.
It is difficult to comprehend and accept that a respectable person can become lewd and rude because of a disease. But it does happen to patients with Alzheimer’s.
2. It affects family dynamics.
Poor memory causes an inability to recognize people, time, and places. If you were in the patient’s shoes, imagine suddenly ‘waking up’ in an unfamiliar place, not remembering when and how you got there. You would get scared because some 'strangers' are claiming to be your relatives. The confusion can easily lead to fear and violence so that it severely affects the interaction between the patient and their family.
3. It leads to eating and nutritional challenges.
The changes that happen in people with Alzheimer’s disease make healthy eating more difficult. Without proper supervision, the patient may forget to eat and drink. They may also fail to remember how to prepare their meals and how to hold and use their utensils. In the later stages, those with Alzheimer’s may develop difficulty chewing and swallowing as well.
4. Communication problems complicate matters.
Brain changes associated with Alzheimer's disease can impair a person's ability to communicate. Patients may struggle to find the right words or forget what they want to say. They lose their train of thought. At their worst, patients fail to understand even their first language. Also, the muscles of speech will become so weak so that they won’t be to speak altogether.
5. It can lead to many safety concerns.
Memory problems and altered decision-making abilities put patients at risk for injuries. For example, patients may forget to turn off the stove. They may double dose on or miss their medications because of forgetfulness. Alzheimer’s patients may wander while wearing weather-inappropriate clothes. All these show just how prone they are to getting hurt. Alzheimer’s disease also affects the part of the brain that controls movement. As a result, patients are also at risk for falls and other accidents.
6. The loss of function and independence is progressive.
In Alzheimer’s disease, families cannot be hopeful that medications and therapies will improve the patient's brain function. It's because damaged brain cells that cause the signs and symptoms do not heal. On the other hand, brain cells die and do not regenerate. Symptoms worsen over time so that in its advanced stages, the patient completely loses all bodily functions and succumbs to the disease.
7. Most of the time, patients are unaware of these changes.
Alzheimer's disease can trigger violent tendencies and emotional outbursts. The patient's mood and behavior can change all of a sudden. And while they may not remember starting a hostile situation, their family and caregivers continue to suffer and are left with the scars caused by their aggressive behavior. The family is traumatized, especially if they lack the understanding that the behavior changes are a symptom of the disease rather than merely an attitude problem.
Thirty years from now, as many as 16 million Americans could have Alzheimer’s disease. The damage brought about by this type of dementia extends beyond the patient. But caregivers can be instrumental in helping them have the best quality of life even with the limitations brought about by this debilitating disease.
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