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.


 

 

 

 

 

Get Some Attitude

Monday

The only difference between a good day and a bad day is your attitude. ~

Dennis S. Brown   


There’s a lot of thought and ideas as to why Mondays seem harder to face than the other days in the week. Some of this is backed by scientific research and the rest is speculation. Regardless of whether we’re facing a new week or something much more serious, how we view the challenge is a good predictor of how we manage said challenge.

From as far back as I can remember, Mondays meant the end of the weekend (freedom) and the beginning of the school/work week (captivity). As children, the weekends brought playtime with friends. When we weren’t cavorting about the neighborhood, we were watching cartoons, studio wrestling, and The Wonderful World of Disney.

As adults working outside the home, weekends continue to represent some level of freedom (unless your job requires hours on Saturdays & Sundays.) While we have a multitude of chores to complete before Sunday evening, we do have some flexibility as to how we structure our days (and nights!) Weekends are usually the time to socialize and enjoy leisure activities.

So, if you get the “Monday Blues” and think it’s all in your head, then check out the following  6 scientific reasons why Mondays are the worst. Trust me, it’ll make you feel better about feeling miserable!

Then you can discover 11 ways to beat the Monday blues. 


But, this post is really about how attitude affects our lives in the face of serious issues and, more specifically, illness.

have a friend who is dealing with her second round of cancer within the last ten years. Sue’s first bout was breast cancer, which she beat after surgery and several years of “maintenance” drugs.

She was in remission for close to five years when an annoying cough and congestion sent her back for tests. They discovered the cancer had returned to her lung. 

She’s been receiving almost weekly cancer treatments since July and had to go through a second course when the first didn’t wipe out all the bad cells. Last week’s PET scan came out clear and she is in remission again.

attitude is everythingThat’s amazing and we’re all very grateful, but what really boggles my mind is her attitude. She has remained positive and upbeat through it all. Despite losing a lot of weight, hair, eyebrows, eyelashes, appetite, the ability to taste, enduring localized pain in her shoulder, mouth sores, cough, and feeling tired much of the time, she has kept up her normal schedule!

As a retired high school guidance counselor, Sue has kept busy at the local country club giving tennis and golf lessons, working in the fitness center, and donating time to various committees in the community. She also does consulting work online for college bound students who are preparing for the SATs.

She hasn’t stopped any of it or even slowed down. She owns a car, but prefers to bicycle or walk everywhere she can, weather permitting. 

I’m sure that she has her dark moments; how could you not when you’re facing something as terrifying as cancer. Those moments are probably reserved for her siblings and oldest and dearest friends, as she has no spouse or children. But, overall, she refuses to allow the cancer to steal her appreciation of an average day; and for Sue, there’s nothing average about any day. They’re all pretty special!

Being Positive

This wonderful woman has a wealth of friends, all of whom have tried in various ways to offer support and encouragement. But, honestly, she is the one who has kept all of us in a positive mindset by her own example. 

Many people in these situations talk about how life takes on a whole new meaning. How they’re able to appreciate the littlest things and truly prioritize what matters. How they understand, with great clarity, what it means to “live life to the fullest.”

 

It’s important to remember the value that endorphins have and the negative effects of cortisol on our bodies. Endorphins are those “feel good” hormones, released by the brain, that contribute to overall good health, while cortisol (the stress hormone) wreaks havoc on us, both physically and mentally.

Positive Thoughts

Maintaining a positive attitude, whether you’re facing a busy week at work, or a more serious issue, will assist in keeping the body healthy during the ups and downs of life. When I forget or begin to doubt this I think about Sue and am reassured. Attitude really can make the difference between a good or bad day.

 

Further information…

 for living with chronic illness

11 tips for coping with a cancer diagnosis