Alzheimer’s Disease was first discovered in 1906 by a German doctor named Alois Alzheimer.
If you are one who might be offended by the frank discussion of this affliction, you would do well to turn the page to another subject. My desire is only to help all of us to be better acquainted with AD and reveal in print a simple comprehensive view of what it does and how it works. Please read with your heart and not just with your eyes. The following is not due to my research but to the kindness of one who gave me the following words.
“AD is a disorder of the brain, causing damage to brain tissue over a period of time. The disease can linger from 2 to 25 years before death results. It is a progressive, debilitating and eventual fatal neurological illness affecting an estimated 4-5 million Americans. It is the most common form of dementing illness.
AD disease is characterized clinically by early memory impairment followed by language and perceptual problems. This disease can affect anyone – it has no economic, social, racial or national barriers.
There is no one cause for Alzheimer’s disease. AD may be sporadic or passed through genetic make-up. The disease causes gradual death of brain tissue due to biochemical problems inside individual brain cells. The symptoms are progressive, but there is great variation in the rate of change from one person to another. In the early stages of AD, the victim may appear completely healthy; the damage is slowly destroying the brain cells. The hidden process damages the brain in several ways.
(a) Patches of brain cells degenerate (neuritic plaques). (b) Nerve endings that transmit messages become tangled (neurofibrillary tangles). (c) There is a reduction in acetylcholine, an important brain chemical (Neurotransmitter). (d) Spaces in the brain (ventricles become larger and filled with granular fluid). (e) The size and shape of the brain alters – the cortex appears to shrink and decay.
Understandably, as the brain continues to degenerate, there is a comparable loss in mental functioning. Since the brain controls all our bodily functions, the Alzheimer’s victim, in the later stages will have difficulty walking, talking, swallowing and controlling bladder and bowel functions. They become quite frail and prone to infections such as pneumonia.
DEMENTIA vs. NORMAL AGING. As a person grows older, he/she worries that forgetting the phone number of a best friend, must mean that he/she is becoming demented or getting AD disease. Forgetfulness, due to aging or increased stress, is not normal aging and is not dementia. Dementia is an encompassing term for numerous forms of memory loss. There are many types of dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease, Multi-infarct dementia or Parkinson’s disease. Changes in personality, mood are also symptoms of dementia. When a person has dementia, he/she will lose the ability to think, reason and remember and will inevitably need assistance with every day activities such as dressing and bathing. Changes in personality, mood are also symptoms or dementia. Many dementias are treatable and reversible. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of untreatable, irreversible dementia.
Third and final stage. This stage is the terminal stage and may last for months or years. The individual will eventually need total personal care. They may no longer be able to speak or recognize their closest relatives. This stage has (a) little or no memory, (b) inability to recognize themselves in a mirror, (c) no recognition of family or friends, (d) great difficulty communicating, (e) difficulty with coordinated movements, (f) complete loss of control of all body functions, (g) increased frailty and complete dependence.
DELUSIONS ARE A COMMON PROBLEM WITH DEMENTIA. Suspiciousness; accusing others of stealing their belongings. People are “out to get them”. Fear of caregiver is going to abandon them (results in AD person never leaving caregiver’s side) and current living space is not “home”.
HALLUCINATIONS OFTEN OCCUR. Seeing or hearing people who are not present. Repetitive actions or questions. They forget they asked the question. Repetitive action such as wringing a towel. Pacing. Sundowning: trying to get “home”. Generally feeling uncomfortable or restless. Increased agitation at night.
Losing things or hiding things, or not remembering where items are. They might be hiding things where people will not steal them. Persons with AD loses social graces and is only doing what feels good.
A wife or husband of forty years will become a stranger to the person with AD. They might think of them as “hired help”. They might not recognize a spatula or the purpose of a spatula and/or cannot verbalize the name of purpose of the object.”
That is the end of the quotation describing AD or other forms of dementia. I want to add some personal notes or opinions. When you contradict a person with AD, they think you are challenging their honesty or calling them “a liar”. Better to simply agree. The greatest hurdle the survivor faces is the feeling of GUILT. There is no room for guilt in AD or other forms of dementia. No one is guilty – not the victim or survivors. When you cannot give 7/24 care and seek other helps or solutions, they may feel you are “pushing them away” or “rejecting them”. When you are forced to make decisions for them and they do not understand, this is an act of love that they do not and will not comprehend. When they ask you, “what is the matter with me”, or “I just want to be me again”, the only answer you can give is to “love them”. Hearts are breaking on both sides of this tragedy.
Silent tears do not flow from the victims, but mostly from the ones who love them above all else. God help us all.