Welcome one and all to the fifth edition of my blog series: Taking Care of the Elderly. Over the past two weeks we have discussed how the boomers are changing the face of elder care, the types of senior living, and the perils of falling. Tonight I will continue the series with a discussion of dementia, and what we can do to help people cope with this serious symptom. Enjoy.

Dementia is literally "the loss of mental functions, and must be severe enough to inhibit daily activities." As we all know, as we age our memories are not quite as good as they were when we were younger, but dementia is something far more severe. Dementia is not a disease in and of itself, but instead is a symptom of various diseases.

These diseases include:

•Degenerative neurological diseases, such as Alzheimer's, frontotemporal lobar degenerations, dementia with Lewy bodies, Parkinson's, and Huntington's
•Vascular disorders, such as multi-infarct dementia, which is caused by multiple strokes in the brain
•Infections that affect the central nervous system, such as HIV dementia complex and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease
•Chronic drug use
•Certain types of hydrocephalus, an accumulation of fluid within the brain that can result from developmental abnormalities, infections, injury, or brain tumors
While all forms of dementia are horrific, being that this diary is focused on the elderly, I will discuss the most common disease associated with dementia:Alzheimer's. Follow me below the squiggly for a discussion of Alzheimer's, how to treat it, how to prevent it, and the impact it has on the care of the elderly.

Let's start with one of the most concerning aspects of the Alzheimer's rates in the United States.

Dementia caused by neurological degenerative disease, especially Alzheimer's disease, is increasing in frequency more than most other types of dementia. Some researchers suspect that as many as half of all people over 85 years old develop Alzheimer's disease.
Every five years after retirement age your risk of Alzheimer's increases. Alzheimer's has many negative medical features, and is becoming an issue that will impact more and more as life expectancy increases. One of the key reasons many researchers believe that Alzheimer's is increasing is because our life expectancy continues to grow. While Alzheimer's is incurable, the quality of care one receives can increase longevity, improve memory retention, and provide for a better quality of life for those impacted by this disorder.
Early Signs of Alzheimer's Disease

Much like any disorder, it is to your benefit to be diagnosed early. With early diagnosis you can make decisions for yourself about the care that you will receive. It also enables you to take advantage of all that medicine can offer to those suffering from Alzheimer's disease. Current medication only slows the progression of Alzheimer's disease so it is very important to catch it early. Below are so early signs of Alzheimer's disease:
•Asking the same question over and over again.
•Repeating the same story, word for word, again and again.
•Forgetting how to cook, or how to make repairs, or how to play cards—activities that were previously done with ease and regularity.
•Losing one's ability to pay bills or balance one's checkbook.
•Getting lost in familiar surroundings, or misplacing household objects.
•Neglecting to bathe, or wearing the same clothes over and over again, while insisting that they have taken a bath or that their clothes are still clean.
•Relying on someone else, such as a spouse, to make decisions or answer questions they previously would have handled themselves.
These warning signs are often brushed away as not important, but THEY ARE! Never ignore warning signs. Many older people that I know personally have memory issues, but will not acknowledge them. They will argue against anything you do to attempt to help them, but remember, it is in their best interest if they get help. Often, many children of the elderly do not want to recognize that there is something wrong with their loved one. It can be really tough to deal with, but helping your parent, spouse, or grandparent now can help increase their quality of life, and that is so very important.
Progression of Alzheimer's Disease

Most experts categorize the progression of Alzheimer's Disease into three categories. Mild, Moderate, and Severe. The progression of alzheimer's disorder can be slowed during the mild and moderate phases. Multiple medications exist to curb the cognitive decline seen in patients, and many patients can live full lives without much assistance during the early stages. Promising treatments may also be coming soon for those that suffer from severe alzheimer's disease.

Near the end of one's battle with Alzheimer's disease, it can become extremely stressful for both the patient and the caregiver, especially if the caregiver is a family member. Don't be afraid to ask for help. 24/7 nursing care is often required for advanced Alzheimer's disease, as most individuals can not participate in their own treatment any longer. Nursing facilities are also an option. The alzheimer's units are secured, and your loved one will have less of a risk of getting hurt than they would living at home.

If it is important to you to have your loved one at home, then take approriate safeguards, much as if you had a child. Keep the doors secured out of the reach of your loved one. Alzheimer's disease makes some individuals wander, and you do not want them to get lost. Do not allow them to cook without your supervision. People suffering with cognitive decay often forget to cut off stoves, etc... With some effort, you can improve their quality of life as well as your own.

Caring for a person with Alzheimer's

At my place of employment, we have a little "absolutes" list on caring for people with Alzheimer's. I think it is appropriate for this section.

Absolutely Never:
Argue instead agree.
Reason instead divert.
Shame instead distract.
Lecture instead reassure.
Say "remember" instead reminisce.
Say "I told you" instead repeat/regroup.
Say "you can't" instead do what they can.
Command/demand instead ask/model.
Condescend instead encourage/praise
Force instead reinforce.

These little tips will help you alot when coping with an individual with Alzheimer's. They don't remember, and no amounts of "remember, I told you, or arguing will make it come back. Work on their strengths, not the weaknesses.

Make sure that the person you are caring for takes their medication on a regular basis. This medicine helps with memory retention and extended cognition. Much of the current research is medicinal for treatment of Alzheimer's disease, but that is not true of prevention.

Preventing Alzheimer's

You've heard of "heart healthy" to prevent heart disease but now we have "brain healthy" to prevent diseases of the brain.

Below is a six pillar model for being brain healthy!

The six pillars of a brain-healthy lifestyle are:

•Regular exercise
•Healthy diet
•Mental stimulation
•Quality sleep
•Stress management
•An active social life

One of the keys to lessening your risk of Alzheimer's is mental stimulation. While the rest of the pillars are fairly self explanatory, I think this one is unique to overall brain health. Mental stimulation is so important to maintaing a healthy brain. Although it can be fun to vedge out and read the latest trashy magazine, or get lost in an episode of Gossip Girl, it's not the best way to keep the mind healthy. Strategy games, memorization, learning a new language, and varying up your lifestyle can all help to increase mental power, and keep you brain healthy for many years to come.

Conclusion: A Brave New World of Brain Health

Remember, nobody is at fault when you receive a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease, and you can make the most of the life that you or your loved one has left. Everyday, medical science is getting closer and closer to unlocked the secret to reversing the condition or stopping it in its' tracks. We have some of the best minds in science working on the disease, and a day will come when nobody will ever have to suffer again from this deadly disease.

This is not everything about Alzheimer's that could ever be written, but I wanted to raise awareness. I'm not a doctor, so discussing the medicines would be outside my expertise. If you or someone you love is suffering from memory problems don't wait, get help now. Thank you all.

Previous Diaries in the Series

The Baby Boom Boom Boom Part 2

The Baby Boom Boom Boom Part 1

The Perils of Falling

This is Not a Nursing Home

Medical Advice Disclaimer

The information included on this post is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. The reader should always consult his or her healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation or if they have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment plan.

Originally posted to zakandsantos on Sat Jul 21, 2012 at 06:23 PM PDT.

Also republished by CareGiving Kos and Community Spotlight.


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