Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia that causes difficulties with memory, thinking, problem-solving, and other mental skills, so that performing daily activities becomes more and more difficult over time. It is caused by damage to the brain cells in older adults. Among the leading causes of death in the United States (it places 6th), Alzheimer’s disease is the only one that cannot be prevented, slowed down, or cured.
Alzheimer’s disease is a buzzword in the healthcare industry, especially among caregivers. At present, more than five million Americans have it, and direct care workers, such as caregivers and home health aides, provide most of the paid long-term care in the home setting.
For caregivers, these facts mean that the chance of caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease is very high. Although training has been provided in caregiving school, there is so much more to the condition in real life. To ensure the best care possible, caregivers need to know what to expect and be prepared for what lies ahead for these patients.
Here are some more facts about Alzheimer’s disease and what they mean for the caregiver:
1. It has three stages: early, middle, and late stage.
In the early stages, forgetfulness is beyond normal. Patient’s put familiar things in unlikely places, such as car keys inside the cupboards. They forget recent memories like the names of people they just met or what they had for breakfast. They begin to have trouble organizing and planning, so much so that they cannot even make sense of their monthly expenses.
WHAT IT MEANS FOR THE CAREGIVER: The client needs some support but they may still be entirely independent, especially in self-care.
The middle stage is the longest and can last many years. Patients’ forgetfulness worsens so that they cannot remember their own personal history and other relevant information, like their address. They are disoriented and confused about the date, place, and time. They wander and become lost. They cannot choose the right clothing and become unable to use supplies or equipment for the right purpose. They show changes in behavior and become depressed, withdrawn, suspicious, or perform repetitive movements.
WHAT IT MEANS FOR THE CAREGIVER: Long-term care is expected, and hard-work, patience, and understanding are a must. The challenge in this stage is balancing control between caregiver and patient, letting the patient stay independent as well as safe, which is very difficult to do when patients attempt to have full control. Additionally, the patient's reactions will be very different than someone without dementia and it may seem that they are not the same person they used to be. For example, a soft-spoken person starts to curse as the disease worsens.
During late stage Alzheimer’s disease, the patient will show severe symptoms. They become unable to perform their activities of daily living (ADLs) to the point that they are completely dependent for care. They lose awareness of themselves, their loved ones, and their surroundings. They become incontinent, or lose urine and bowel control. They lose their ability to move around and at worst, the ability to swallow. Communication becomes poor, until they become unable to speak or understand a word.
WHAT IT MEANS FOR THE CAREGIVER: The patient needs 24-hour supervision and assistance with care procedures, so expect to do everything for the patient during the worst days. Special attention must be given to their nutrition and hydration, because they become prone to infections such as pneumonia when they are confined to bed for long periods. Tell the supervisor if they seem to be in pain. Make the patient comfortable and keep them neat. Make sure they are always safe.
2. Alzheimer’s disease has no cure, but there are treatments to manage its symptoms.
WHAT IT MEANS FOR THE CAREGIVER: Always follow what is written in the care plan. This is important so that the patient receives the best possible care.
3. Alzheimer's disease is not part of normal aging. Although older people are commonly known to have this disease, not everyone who is aged 65 and above has dementia.
WHAT IT MEANS FOR THE CAREGIVER: Do not treat all older patients as if they have dementia. For those with the disease, always treat them with respect whether they are aware of it or not.
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