Treatment Options and Support for Caregivers
by Stephen Roberts PhD
According to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America “Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive, degenerative disorder that attacks the brain’s nerve cells, or neurons, resulting in loss of memory, thinking and language skills, and behavioral changes.” It has been estimated that approximately 5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease (AD). This number will increase as our population ages.
Salli Bollin Executive Director of The Alzheimer’s Association of NW Ohio states “Our healthcare community has made major strides in cancer and heart disease research and treatment. Let’s do the same for Alzheimer’s research by making our voices heard together. We MUST make Alzheimer’s a national priority.”
One form of treatment for AD, is using drugs to assist with memory loss. Cholinesterase inhibitors (Aricept) are used during the early to moderate stages of AD while memantine (Namenda) drugs are used for moderate to severe stages. Cholinesterase inhibitors decrease the breakdown of chemical messengers which helps communication among nerve cells. Memantine also helps with chemical communication and slows the worsening of AD symptoms.
Dealing with the challenging behavioral changes that go along with AD, one suggestion is to make sure the individual is comfortable and not being affected by variables such as hunger, pain, needing to urinate or room temperature that is too hot or cold. Try to avoid confrontation or needing to be correct about “the facts.” Work to make the environment peaceful by decreasing noise and too much distraction, such as television, when needed. Provide a security object which can bring comfort – items such as blankets or stuffed toys or actual pets are sometimes helpful. Redirect the individual’s attention. Explore various solutions to problems by, among other things, discussing issues with health professionals. Finally, try not to take the behaviors of the person afflicted with AD personally.
If you are in the position of caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease it is critical that you take good care of yourself. The people at the National Institute on Aging indicate that one of the most important things you should do is ask others for help. One of the techniques that is suggested, if meeting the requests is difficult is to ask for assistance with a specific task such as making lunch or visiting the person with AD for a short time.
Along with asking for help be gentle with yourself. What you are doing is very challenging and no one does it perfectly.
Consider joining a support group. For information on local groups Alzheimer’s Association on 2500 N. Reynolds in Toledo at 419-537-1999 | alz.org/nwohio/
Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer’s
It is important that we recognize the symptoms of this disease for our loved ones and ourselves. A according to the Alzheimer’s Association, here are the signs, that we should be looking for:
• Memory loss that interferes with life. Asking for information repeatedly, forgetting information that was just learned.
• Decreased ability to solve problems or plan
• Difficulty finishing routine or familiar tasks.
• Trouble following a conversation – may repeat statements or not know what to say.
• Difficulty judging distance and reading.
• Decreased good judgement – spending money unwisely, not grooming or cleaning oneself adequately.
• Losing track of time or dates.
• Not being able to find things when they are lost or put in unusual places.
• Retreating from socializing at work.
• Alterations of mood and personality becoming afraid, irritable, aggressive, anxious, confused, untrusting.