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How does the disease affect the caregiver?

Sunday, February 7, 2010 0 comments

No two people experience Alzheimer’s disease in the same way. As a result, there's no one approach to caregiving. Your responsibilities can range from making financial decisions, managing changes in behavior, to helping a loved one get dressed in the morning.

Handling these duties is hard work. But by learning caregiving skills, you can make sure that your loved one feels supported and is living a full life. You can also ensure that you are taking steps to preserve your own well-being.

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What are the stages the person goes through?

1. No impairment (normal function):

Unimpaired individuals experience no memory problems and none are evident to a health care professional during a medical interview.

2. Very mild cognitive decline (maybe normal age-related changes or earliest signs of Alzheimer's disease):

Individuals may feel as if they have memory loss and lapses, especially in forgetting familiar words or names or the location of keys, eyeglasses or other everyday objects. But these problems are not evident during a medical examination or apparent to friends, family or co-workers.

3. Mild cognitive decline (early-stage Alzheimer's can be diagnosed in some, but not all, individuals with these symptoms):

Friends, family or co-workers begin to notice deficiencies. Problems with memory or concentration may be measurable in clinical testing or discernible during a detailed medical interview. Common difficulties include:
  • Word- or name-finding problems noticeable to family or close associates
  • Decreased ability to remember names when introduced to new people
  • Performance issues in social or work settings noticeable to family, friends or co-workers
  • Reading a passage and retaining little material
  • Losing or misplacing a valuable object
  • Decline in ability to plan or organize
4. Moderate cognitive decline (mild or early-stage Alzheimer's disease):

At this stage, a careful medical interview detects clear-cut deficiencies in the following areas:
  • Decreased knowledge of recent occasions or current events
  • Impaired ability to perform challenging mental arithmetic-for example, to count backward from 75 by 7s
  • Decreased capacity to perform complex tasks, such as planning dinner for guests, paying bills and managing finances
  • Reduced memory of personal history
  • The affected individual may seem subdued and withdrawn, especially in socially or mentally challenging situations
5. Moderately severe cognitive decline (moderate or mid-stage Alzheimer's disease):

Major gaps in memory and deficits in cognitive function emerge. Some assistance with day-to-day activities becomes essential. At this stage, individuals may:
  • Be unable during a medical interview to recall such important details as their current address, their telephone number or the name of the college or high school from which they graduated
  • Become confused about where they are or about the date, day of the week or season
  • Have trouble with less challenging mental arithmetic; for example, counting backward from 40 by 4s or from 20 by 2s
  • Need help choosing proper clothing for the season or the occasion
  • Usually retain substantial knowledge about themselves and know their own name and the names of their spouse or children
  • Usually require no assistance with eating or using the toilet
6. Severe cognitive decline (moderately severe or mid-stage Alzheimer's disease):

Memory difficulties continue to worsen, significant personality changes may emerge and affected individuals need extensive help with customary daily activities. At this stage, individuals may:
  • Lose most awareness of recent experiences and events as well as of their surroundings
  • Recollect their personal history imperfectly, although they generally recall their own name
  • Occasionally forget the name of their spouse or primary caregiver but generally can distinguish familiar from unfamiliar faces
  • Need help getting dressed properly; without supervision, may make such errors as putting pajamas over daytime clothes or shoes on wrong feet
  • Experience disruption of their normal sleep/waking cycle
  • Need help with handling details of toileting (flushing toilet, wiping and disposing of tissue properly)
  • Have increasing episodes of urinary or fecal incontinence
  • Experience significant personality changes and behavioral symptoms, including suspiciousness and delusions (for example, believing that their caregiver is an impostor); hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that are not really there); or compulsive, repetitive behaviors such as hand-wringing or tissue shredding
  • Tend to wander and become lost
7.Very severe cognitive decline (severe or late-stage Alzheimer's disease):

This is the final stage of the disease when individuals lose the ability to respond to their environment, the ability to speak and, ultimately, the ability to control movement.
  • Frequently individuals lose their capacity for recognizable speech, although words or phrases may occasionally be uttered
  • Individuals need help with eating and toileting and there is general incontinence of urine
  • Individuals lose the ability to walk without assistance, then the ability to sit without support, the ability to smile, and the ability to hold their head up. Reflexes become abnormal and muscles grow rigid. Swallowing is impaired.

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How does the disease get diagnosed?

The first step in following up on symptoms is finding a doctor you feel comfortable with. Alzheimer’s Association clients report they are most likely to be satisfied seeing someone who is well informed about Alzheimer’s disease. Your local Alzheimer’s Association can help you find the right doctor. 

There is no single type of doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating memory loss or Alzheimer’s disease. Many people contact their regular primary care physician or internist about their concerns. Primary care doctors often oversee the diagnostic process and provide treatment themselves.

In some cases, the primary care doctor may refer a patient to one of the following specialists:
  • A neurologist, who specializes in diseases of the brain and nervous system
  • A psychiatrist, who specializes in disorders that affect mood or the way the mind works
  • A psychologist with advanced training in testing memory, concentration, problem solving, language and other mental functions (more info)
Source: Alzheimer's Association

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Which are the warning signs?

1. Memory changes that disrupt daily life.

2. Challenges in planning or solving problems.

3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure.

4. Confusion with time or place.

5. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships.

6. New problems with words in speaking or writing.

7. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps.

8. Decreased or poor judgment.

9. Withdrawal from work or social activities.

10. Changes in mood and personality.

(more info)

Source: Alzheimer's Association

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What is Alzheimer's?

Alzheimer’s (AHLZ-high-merz) is a disease of the brain that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior. It is not a normal part of aging. 

Alzheimer’s gets worse over time. And there's no cure for it.

Although symptoms can vary widely, the first problem many people notice is forgetfulness severe enough to affect their ability to function at home or at work, or to enjoy lifelong hobbies.

Other symptoms include confusion, getting lost in familiar places, misplacing things and trouble with language. (more info)

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