SAN DIEGO, September 23, 2014 — Alzheimer’s disease will likely impact the lives of most American families.
Whether affecting a family member, loved one, friend or co-worker, every 67 seconds the American who is stricken by Alzheimer’s disease could be someone close to home.
There is no escaping the societal impact of this devastating neurological illness which will, by 2050, claim the lives of a projected 16 million Americans.
Mostly a disease caused by the process of aging, Alzheimer’s primarily afflicts those 65 years of age or older, though it can be found to a lesser extent in younger populations.
Alzheimer’s disease is particularly horrific due to its ability to gradually and ultimately steal all of one’s memory.
As a slow disease process which can take 3-10 years, or more following an initial medical diagnosis, short-term memory loss is one of the most noticeable early signs.
Though likely able to read, write and rationalize in the early stages, there is ever-increasing difficulty remembering more recent events.
As Alzheimer’s continues to progress into the middle to late stages, communication with others becomes more difficult.
What can also be challenging are the difficult behavioral changes and moods which continuously evolve and sometimes manifest into escalation and aggression.
A loved one could behave almost seemingly normally at one point in time then completely change demeanor within minutes or hours.
The result is an unpredictable Alzheimer’s personality unintentionally creating unstable communications and interactions with others.
For those whose loved one is stricken by this horrible disease, it is imperative to come to terms with the reality that it is incurable and will continue in deterioration and decline–there is no known cure.
Fortunately for the victims of Alzheimer’s disease, there is no cognitive awareness that they have it.
It is likely, however, that they are making every attempt to adapt their behavior to survive it and maintain the quality of their lives as they perceive it.
Possibly frightened by experiencing their lives in an entirely new and ever-changing dimension, they could be propelled into behaviors which could vary from frustration, anger, mistrust, paranoia, hallucinations and delusions.
Striking out emotionally at family, friends and acquaintances is common.
Loved ones, including formal and informal caregivers, must be prepared for the emotional roller coaster ride created by Alzheimer’s disease–especially accepting the difficult reality that a loved one is slipping away and will never be the same again.
It is imperative that new tools for communication are learned as a method for effectively coping with the changes and ravages of the disease itself, somehow separating the results of the disease and the behaviors it creates from the person it affects.
The Alzheimer’s Association offers helpful communication tips which they aptly call Compassionate Communication.
One of the first tenets of Compassionate Communication is what to absolutely not do:
-Don’t remind them that they forgot
-Don’t question their recent memory
-Don’t take their behavior or reactions personally
What is implied by the Alzheimer’s Association in their list of don’ts is that a victim of Alzheimer’s has both loss of reason and cognition.
Further, they suggest some helpful communication tools to use and do:
-Do give short answers
-Do allow time for cognition
-Do agree with them even if there is unreasonableness
-Do distract them with a new subject or activity if they appear frustrated or agitated
-Do accept the blame for any miscommunication
-Do leave the room to avoid confrontation or escalation
-Do respond to feelings expressed positively even if they are from a place of anger, frustration, suspicion, paranoia or delusion
Finally, the Alzheimer’s Association recommends always remembering that a loved one is speaking, behaving and acting in a way that is absolutely normal for one who has Alzheimer’s disease.
Since a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease simply cannot understand or know that they are no longer able to have cognition or the capacity to fully remember, it is helpful to be aware that they are likely able to respond emotionally and intuitively to displays of agreement, reassurance, gentle touch and displays of kindness from a caring person with a loving heart.
Until next time, enjoy the ride in good health!
Laurie Edwards-Tate, MS, is a health care provider of over 30 years. As a featured “Communities Digital News” columnist, LifeCycles with Laurie Edwards-Tate emphasizes healthy aging and maintaining independence, while delighting and informing its readers. Laurie is a recognized expert in home and community-based, long-term care services, and is also an educator.
In addition to writing for “Communities Digital News,” Laurie is the President and CEO of her firm, At Your Home Familycare, which serves persons of all ages who are disabled and infirm with a variety of non-medical, in-home care and concierge services.
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