How To Better Understand A Loved One With Alzheimer’s

NOTE:  I wrote this after viewing the Edge of Humanity Magazine’s post on March 6. The title is The Faces of Alzheimer’s Disease, a contribution of portrait photography by Alex ten Napel. Please take a few moments to view the images here.

Alzheimers FaceREV

If you’ve ever spent time in an Alzheimer’s/Dementia unit then these faces should look familiar. 

Not the individuals themselves, but their expressions and the moods they reflect. These faces range from thoughtful and smiling to frustrated and expressionless. They’re like the ones we all display at various times. 

The difference is that ours are prompted by clear thoughts and emotions, triggered by specific circumstances. An Alzheimer’s patient often can’t account for what they’re thinking and feeling at any given moment. 

The folks looking thoughtful may actually be unable to focus, their minds overrun with many simultaneous thoughts. They quietly struggle to locate memories or ideas.

Those who are smiling with amusement sometimes do so for no apparent reason. At times they’ll burst into giddy laughter as if they’re privy to some joke that no one else knows.

Then there are the angry, frustrated episodes as the patient lashes out with rage and profanity at everyone around them.

A blank stare can indicate that the person has momentarily disappeared deeper into the fog that is gradually taking over their conscious mind.

The unpredictability of these mood swings is unnerving for family and friends who are slowly watching their loved one slip away.

Alzheimer’s is a progressive, neurodegenerative disease that destroys healthy brain cells. The symptoms worsen over time and a person can suffer with it from four to eight years on average. Depending on the circumstances, life expectancy may last up to twenty years after diagnosis. 

ChangeChanges in the brain begin to occur years before any symptoms present themselves. This is referred to as the “preclinical” period. 

Looking back, I recall times when my dad behaved oddly or had difficulty doing a task that he’d done a hundred times before.

He took medications for high blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes, but we weren’t aware of the changes occurring in his brain.

I don’t know if the doctors warned him about dementia as a possible outcome of his other conditions. If they did he chose not to share that information with our family.

Three Stages of Alzheimer’s:

Mild (Early Stage) 

In the earliest stages of the disease, the person is still able to function independently. They continue their normal routines with only slight lapses of memory and minor confusion. There can be physical signs, as well. Family members may begin to notice these difficulties. A trained physician can detect problems with concentration and memory through a detailed exam. Likewise, physical exams often expose changes in gait and balance.

Moderate (Middle Stage) 

This is the stage that typically lasts the longest, sometimes for years. Symptoms, both mental and physical, become much more obvious and the loved one requires a greater level of care. The confusion and disorientation that begins in the middle stage influences the person’s perception of reality.

They also experience communication problems. At times they have difficulty expressing their thoughts and feelings and can’t understand what others are saying. They struggle to remember the meanings of words. This level of disorientation creates fear, anger, and embarrassment.

Severe (Late Stage) 

Patients in this stage require full-time assistance with daily activities and personal care. They have difficulty communicating and lose awareness of their surroundings. They no longer recognize familiar faces. Their physical condition worsens along with their mental state.

It’s important to become familiar with these stages so that caretakers can understand what the patient is experiencing.

Alzheimer Brain

Despite the ongoing challenges, there are strategies available to handle these problems. Marie Marley has authored two books and numerous articles on ways to deal with the behavioral issues of dementia patients. In the past, she has focused specifically on the very difficult job of being a caretaker.

However, after reading The Best Friends Approach to Alzheimer’s Care Marley realized that she’d never considered how the patient feels. The book, written by Virginia Bell and David Troxel, explains it in a way that the reader can experience those feelings. 

In Marley’s post, she gives an example from the book that really drives this point home. The authors remind the reader of how it felt to be called on in class and not know the correct answer. Then they point out that life for an Alzheimer’s patient is living in that classroom every day and never having the correct answer. 

 Education is the key to understanding how the illness affects the patient both mentally and physically, and how to manage their care more effectively.

The  Alzheimer’s Association is an excellent starting point for your research. They are the leading voluntary health organization committed to caring, support, and research for Alzheimer’s/Dementia patients and their families.

Because there is no cure, Alzheimer’s eventually renders the person completely dependent and powerless.

But, knowledge is power and being able to provide compassionate and informed care is something that benefits both patient and caretaker.

It is also the best and final gift we can offer our loved one.






Embracing The Change


Menopause 2

It started innocently enough back in the winter of 2011.

One night I crawled into bed and laid on my back, which had become the favored sleeping position in middle age. Within a couple of minutes I noticed my heart started fluttering, as if there were a butterfly trying to find its way out. It also felt like my heart was beating faster than normal. It only lasted a couple of minutes, so I chalked it up to having eaten something that contained caffeine.

But, it continued and only occurred at bedtime, when I would lie flat on my back. The episodes would occasionally skip a night, but were consistent enough to cause concern. I’m not one to call the doctor for every little ache or pain; however, growing older has given me a greater appreciation for good health. I’m determined to hang on to it as long as possible.

And that means not ignoring your body when it’s trying to tell you something. So, I called the doctor and had an examination within a couple of days. He asked a lot of questions and did an EKG that showed a slightly abnormal arrhythmia. He assured me that this often happens as we age and could mean that menopause was approaching. As a precaution he ordered tests to make sure it wasn’t a sign of something more serious.

I ended up having an echocardiogram, stress test, and  wore a Holter monitor for 24 hours. Fortunately, all came back normal. The only exception was that my heart rate increased too rapidly when I started walking on the treadmill. The attending cardiologist told me this was a sign that I needed to exercise more (go figure.)

menopause 1Shortly after the tests I began experiencing hot flashes. This confirmed my doctor’s suspicion that I was entering perimenopause, the period before actual menopause begins. For those of you who weren’t aware, there are three stages to the Change: before, during and after.

I used to think this was a cruel way for Mother Nature to torture us girls even further. It wasn’t enough to endow us with our monthly “Ladies Days” that can easily span 45 years, give or take. But, when we finally reach the end it has to be dragged out for another five or so years!

Aside from the rapid, fluttering heartbeat, there’s a bevy of other symptoms, thanks to the fluctuating hormone levels. They can continue through all three stages, depending. These symptoms and their intensity vary from woman to woman and is the stuff of many jokes (see memes above.)

In the beginning, I viewed it as a nuisance and another hardship for the female gender to bear. However, as I made my way through the mood swings and power surges, I started to see it more as a rite of passage, rather than something I had to “get through.” 

Despite the disadvantages of a being a woman, I’m glad I am one. It gave me the opportunity to experience pregnancy and childbirth, something that changed my life in a very positive way. While I didn’t appreciate it at the time, it taught me a lot about myself. Everything I did, every sacrifice I made in raising my kiddos really defines who I am as a person. They made me become my very best self and I couldn’t have had them without a uterus!

Which brings me to the point about embracing the change. When I was 13 years old I underwent the first change that bestowed the privilege of child-bearing. As I recall that transformation wasn’t especially fun either. But it set the stage for an amazing experience called motherhood.

It's Over

Fast forward 37 years and I entered the next change that would ultimately end my ability to bear children. While the transition was (once again) somewhat uncomfortable, there is an upside. The Ladies Days and all it entails is over…no more worries about if, when, and do I have a spare tampon on me? No more cramps, bloating, fatigue, etc. Truly the end of an era!

And just like they retire the numbers of famous athletes, we retire our ability to procreate the next generation (where’s my jersey?) In retrospect, having that ability was an honor, one that deserves a celebration! Of course, that’s easy for me to say now that I’m post-menopausal.

So, as I celebrate this rite of passage and it’s conclusion, what is the next great adventure?

Grandparenthood, of course…like parenthood without all the work! 










Monday Again?

Monday Cat FINAL

“There aren’t enough days in the weekend.” ~ Rod Schmidt

What is it about Mondays that make it so hard to get out of bed?

A five day work week doesn’t last nearly as long as it used to. Before you can turn around it’s Friday again and time to start Happy Hour… or those house chores that are always waiting for our attention.

The weekends (or whatever your particular days off from work are) are spent doing: laundry, cleaning, shopping, cooking, banking, etc. If you’re lucky you can squeeze in time for things that YOU REALLY ENJOY (like blogging!) 

Time seems to be speeding up in direct proportion to my advancing age and it’s getting kind’ve scary. The older I get, the more things I want to:

  • try
  • see 
  • learn
  • discover
  • find
  • create
  • write
  • experience
  • taste
  • touch
  • smell…well, you get the picture.

I didn’t realize (when I was younger) how much there was to do once you got older! I was so busy going to work and raising a family that I didn’t understand how many interests I had. They were buried under the day-to-day responsibilities. 

Bored GIFWhich is why I don’t get people who fear retirement.  OK, so you’re worried that you’ll be bored. Or that you’ll schlup around in a robe and slippers and watch TV 24/7. Well, I guess if your job was the only thing that gave you enjoyment, then I see your point. But, I digress…

These folks need to figure out who they were before responsibilities got in the way. Sure, you still have to do the day-to-day upkeep, but now you can devote whole chunks of time to doing what you love most.

Or, maybe you’re like I was and simply don’t know what you love to do. If so, there are many resources on the Internet to help you figure out what your strengths are and where your interests lie. Visit the local library. Take a class. Volunteer. Join a club. 

Eventually, you’ll figure it out, your schedule will fill up, you’ll meet new people, and the only limits will be…time!