Addressing the reality of Alzheimer’s
By Guest Columnist Stephanie Duguid
It is difficult to pronounce, but it’s also difficult to live with it. The disease is Alzheimer’s.
I have had personal experience with this disease. My stepmother passed away in April from Alzheimer’s. This disease is a challenge, not only for the person affected with it, but also for the caretaker, who was my dad! I saw firsthand the challenges, the frustrations, his incredible patience, and the sadness.
Alzheimer’s is a disease that robs individuals of their identities. Ii is the most common form of what we call dementia. Dementia is the name for brain disorders that effect memory, behavior, and the ability to make decisions. Alzheimer’s also destroys brain cells, causing the loss of brain-related functions. There is memory loss, change in behavior related to personality change and loss of body functions, and there is no cure.
If you want to think, “memory loss is a natural part of aging,” understand that Alzheimer’s does not cause occasional memory loss. Would you be okay with forgetting the route to your house altogether? Or the name of your best friend or children? And think about the effect it has on behavior and body functions. Those with the disease may not connect with those they love. They can lose their abilities to walk, talk, think, and even eat.
While it is a disease that primarily affects older adults, young people aren’t safe. Studies show it can affect the elderly and young people down to age thirty. None of us are safe from this crippling disease.
Although its end is not yet in sight, we can help ease the pain of people with Alzheimer’s. Encourage them to:
1. Eat healthy. Alzheimer’s causes inflammation in the brain and other factors stopping brain cells from communicating. Healthy eating can reduce inflammation and protect the brain. Providing healthy meals with vegetables and fish can help people with Alzheimer’s.
2. Exercise. Physical exercise can stimulate the brain’s ability to maintain connections. Help individuals with Alzheimer’s get moderate levels of exercise daily. A short walk or more, depending on the person’s ability. This can help reduce the progression of Alzheimer’s.
3. To be mentally active. As the saying goes, if you don’t use your brain, you’ll lose it. Help individuals with Alzheimer’s keep their brains active.
It could be through constant communication with them. Help them engage in organizational tasks and increase their social interactions. Studies show that cognitive abilities improve in people who are mentally stimulated.
You can help Alzheimer’s patients reduce their decline by:
1. Maintaining a daily routine for them. What feels familiar improves the mood of Alzheimer’s patients. Create routines that considers their preferences. Help them engage in activities that have meaning for them. Consider when they feel freshest. As you create familiar routines, they’ll know what to expect. When they engage in activities that interest them, they are happier.
2. Being patient with them. You’ll need a lot of patience in dealing with people with Alzheimer’s. They may struggle with tasks and get frustrated, taking it out on you. They may also seem confused a lot, and will have difficulty remembering things that were once simpler to them. Don’t lose your temper or argue with them if they seem unreasonable. Don’t rush to fill in the blanks if they forget something. Instead, take your time to guide them if they get confused. They are going through a difficult time. Your patience will ease this a little.
3. Helping them connect. People with Alzheimer’s have a hard time expressing themselves. Show them you’re willing to communicate with them despite this difficulty. Call them by their name and look into their eyes when talking to them. A gentle touch to guide them helps them feel your affection. Though they may struggle to speak, don’t talk to them like a baby.
Alzheimer’s disease is a tough reality we must face. While it saddens us, you can gain joy in helping them and making the disease more bearable for those affected.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Stephanie Duguid is Dean of Academic Instruction at Co-Lin. She is also an athletic trainer and nutrition specialist and has been teaching courses related to those two areas as well as practicing what she preaches for more than twenty years.