Have you ever walked into a room and couldn’t remember what you were looking for? How about misplacing you keys or your cell phone? We’ve all experienced these small memory losses as a part of everyday life. Now, how would you feel if you suddenly couldn’t remember your own child? Imagine that you are losing your memory little by little and there is nothing you can do to stop it.
That’s what happens to someone with Alzheimer’s.
Alzheimer’s disease takes a toll on the individual who has it and a massive emotional toll on their family and/or caregivers. My husband recently lost his mother Ruby, who had suffered with Alzheimer’s for almost 10 years.
Alzheimer’s is a horrible disease, which has no cure. The loved ones watch helplessly as their family member slowly disappears. You see the person, but the individual is no longer there. Each person with Alzheimer’s experiences the disease a bit differently, but there are some similarities as the disease develops in stages.
Stage One – Mild
Early symptoms include confusion, mood swings, speech problems, and poor memory or forgetfulness. The person affected may or may not realize they are having problems, but it may be obvious to the people around them. The affected person may repeatedly ask the same questions again and again, or consistently misplace objects by putting them in illogical places.
My mother-in-law would telephone our home 10-12 times a day and ask the same question. She was in constant motion, yet not able to concentrate on one task long enough to complete it. This was the hardest stage emotionally for her, because she remembered enough to understand that she was losing her memory and she often cried for hours due to this realization.
Stage Two – Moderate
As the disease progresses more symptoms appear such as hallucinations, delusions, possessiveness, inability to sleep, and rambling conversations about things which have not occurred. The individual may also experience personality changes.
This stage involves 24/7 care. Ruby didn’t sleep and would move about her home at all hours of the night and we were afraid that she would wander away and become lost. She hallucinated, imagining bugs in her kitchen that would only come out when the lights were off. At this point her personality ‘flipped’ from a polite Christian lady who never cursed to being very vocal and possessive (intensely jealous) of her husband.
Stage Three – Severe
The severe stage is of course the worst with the individual experiencing appetite loss, dehydration, the inability to move about without help, an increase in infections and illnesses, trouble swallowing, no ability to care for themself, and finally the loss of long and short-term memory.
As the Alzheimer’s consumed my mother-in-law she lost the ability to drink without using a straw, her food had to be puréed, and she was confined to a wheel chair. She no long recognized her children or grandchildren and was even unaware when her husband passed away. My husband would feed her breakfast every Sunday morning and take her strawberry flavored milk (her favorite). He waited patiently for that minute or two of clarity, when she would recognize him, which occurred less and less frequently as time went by.
My husband and I, as a way of better understanding how to care for Ruby, researched Alzheimer’s disease. We learned many things during that time, which are not commonly discussed. Here are a few of the facts we found.
° The disease was discovered and named after Dr Alois Alzheimer of Marktbreit, Bavaria in 1906 (about.com).
° The disease can last from 3-20 years and is the 6th leading cause of death in the U.S. (cdc.gov).
° Alzheimer’s is thought of as an old person’s disease, because ages 60 and up are more likely to be diagnosed with the disease; however, people as young as 30 can have early onset Alzheimer’s, but it is a rare 5% (nih.org)
° Four drugs have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat Alzheimer’s: donepezil (Aricept®), rivastigmine (Exelon®), or galantamine (Razadyne®), and memantine (Namenda®) (alz.org).
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Alzheimer’s Foundation of America
322 Eighth Avenue, 7th Floor
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National Institute on Aging
Building 31, Room 5C27
31 Center Drive, MSC 2292
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