Many elderly persons experience varying dementia as they age. Dementia is defined as a loss of cognitive ability that is worse than average aging. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia seen in elderly patients today. In medical settings, Alzheimer’s disease may also be called Alzheimer disease or AD.
While some forms of dementia are sudden and static, such as dementia from a brain injury, Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive form of dementia. It typically occurs in the geriatric population, which includes patients over the age of 65. However, there have been documented cases of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease in patients under the age of 65. Early-onset Alzheimer’s disease is rare.
Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease
While symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease vary between individuals, the following signs are prevalent in the majority of Alzheimer’s sufferers:
- Difficulty with recalling recent events
- Developing or increasing stress levels
- Mood swings
- Trouble with communication
- Long-term memory loss
- Gradual and slow loss of bodily functions
Diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s disease frequently goes unnoticed in early years. This is because Alzheimer’s symptoms are typically attributed to general characteristics of aging. When an elderly patient is checked for Alzheimer’s disease, symptoms may be discussed. The elder’s behavior and cognitive abilities will be evaluated through a series of tests, and a brain scan may be necessary.
In elderly patients with pronounced Alzheimer’s disease, portions of the brain shrink while other parts expand. The cerebral cortex and the hippocampus both shrink, inhibiting thought capabilities for the elderly person. At the same time, ventricles or gaps within the brain may expand. As Alzheimer’s disease progresses, plaques and tangles may appear within the elder patient’s brain.
Preventing & Treating Alzheimer’s
The medical industry cannot define an exact cause or standard progression of Alzheimer’s disease. This makes Alzheimer’s extremely difficult to treat or prevent. Essentially, treating Alzheimer’s disease purely consists of treating the symptoms, because Alzheimer’s cannot be cured. Once Alzheimer’s disease is identified, medications may be discussed to alleviate the related emotions of anxiety or depression. As the disease progresses, a caregiver must be assigned.
Some doctors suggest prescriptions that are believed to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, but these are not agreed upon by everyone in the field. Many prescription medications for Alzheimer’s disease are still in the trial phase. In 2012 alone, over 1,000 different clinical trials were coordinated to test various medications for treating Alzheimer’s disease.
Many medical professionals believe a healthy elderly adult can delay mental degeneration through certain activities. These doctors cite that mental stimulation is important. It is good for the elder to try new things or learn new skills, such as how to use e-mail on a computer. Exercise and proper diet have also both been shown to delay mental degeneration in healthy elderly patients.
While these tactics may benefit the mental capabilities of older patients that are generally healthy, they have not been shown to reverse the effects of brain diseases. Healthy behavior is always a wise decision. However, it will not clinically improve patients who are already experiencing degenerative brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
Alternative Alzheimer’s Treatment
In recent years, emerging evidence has suggested that alternative Alzheimer’s treatment methods may be preferred. Maintaining day-to-day routines is one of the most central beliefs to successfully managing Alzheimer’s disease. Though these methods cannot cure Alzheimer’s disease, they can help alleviate symptoms without the use of medications. It can be wise to minimize the need for medication in elder patients, due to the unknown, unexpected, or varied interactions of some prescriptions for each individual.
New options for alternative Alzheimer’s treatment have been shown to briefly improve memory recollection and communication after the activity, and they include, but are not limited to:
- Listening to the elder patient’s favorite music from younger years
- Discussing the elderly patient’s first car
- Tossing a ball or coloring a picture
- Painting nails or styling hair (without heated or sharp hair tools)
- Playing cards or dominoes
- Gardening (avoiding any hazardous tools)
- Visiting with well-trained and beloved pets
- Folding laundry
- Making lemonade, or any favorite food that does not require sharp tools or heat
- Wiping off kitchen counters or cabinets
- Viewing family photographs
- Taking a walk with a loved one
- Piecing together a favorite puzzle
- Keeping a journal or scrapbook
Elder Abuse of Alzheimer’s Patients
When an elderly patient with Alzheimer’s disease is being abused, it is extremely difficult to identify. Due to the nature of the disease, the patient may not remember the elder abuse occurring. The elder patient may also be unable to communicate the problem in the event of elder abuse. Alzheimer’s disease makes it especially hard to report elder abuse.
Many caregivers are aware of the memory loss and communicative problems associated with Alzheimer’s disease. For this reason, an elder patient with Alzheimer’s disease may be an easy target for an abusive caregiver. It is important to request references and investigate nursing homes, live-in nurses, and other adult care options prior to making a selection.
Common Injuries of Alzheimer’s Patients
Certain abusive injuries are common among Alzheimer’s patients, and they may warn loved ones that an elder is being neglected or abused by the caregiver, including:
- Burns, scrapes, bruises, or cuts, that may result from negligence or repeated elder abuse
- Emotional harassment or intimidation, which may result in the elder becoming more withdrawn and Alzheimer’s disease progressing at a faster pace
- Confinement of the elder, or restricting the elder to a room without social contact
- Elder sexual abuse, involving physical contact when an elder with Alzheimer’s disease may be unable to vocalize consent or disapproval
- Financial abuse, where a person may withhold financial resources to the elder’s disadvantage or for the offender’s personal advantage
- Deprivation, where a caregiver purposely denies the Alzheimer’s patient of food, clothes, medication, water, shelter, or other physical needs
- Negligence, or failure to provide a standard level of care and safety
Caring for an Alzheimer’s Patient
From the perspective of a patient’s caregiver, caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease can be one of the most taxing experiences in adult life. Caring for a family member with Alzheimer’s disease is emotionally and mentally difficult, due to the patient’s mood swings and loss of memory. It can be hard to maintain a job or source of income during this time, since an Alzheimer’s patient requires continuous monitoring to avoid accidental injury.
In early stages, it may be possible to continue Alzheimer’s adult care at home without professional assistance. This is especially true when an entire family or several neighbors are caring for the elderly Alzheimer’s patient. However, during later stages of Alzheimer’s, it is critical to seek professional assistance. At this stage, counseling or psychotherapy can be beneficial for the caregiver as well.
Caring for a Person with Alzheimer’s Disease: Your Easy-to-Use Guide from the National Institute on Aging. Bethesda: 2012. eBook. http://www.nia.nih.gov/alzheimers/publication/caring-person-alzheimers-disease
“Caregiver Center: Abuse.” Alzheimer’s Association. Alzheimer’s Association National Office, n.d. Web. 21 May 2013. http://www.alz.org/care/alzheimers-dementia-elder-abuse.asp
“Living with Alzheimer’s.” Alzheimer’s Association. Alzheimer’s Association National Office, n.d. Web. 21 May 2013. http://www.alz.org/living_with_alzheimers_4521.asp
Russell, Doug, Tina De Benedictis, and Joanna Saisan. “Dementia and Alzheimer’s Care.” Help Guide. Help Guide, n.d. Web. 20 May 2013. http://www.helpguide.org/elder/alzheimers_disease_dementias_caring_caregivers.htm