Alzheimer’s Awareness Month

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Story by Cheri Woodsmall

Bob and Loretta met many years ago while Bob was in Kansas City visiting relatives. “Bob was funny, smart and so handsome he knocked me off my feet,” says Loretta.

After raising four children and building a very fulfilling life together, Loretta noticed small changes in Bob’s behavior a few years ago and became concerned. Bob worked in construction all his life and 10 years prior to his diagnosis, started his own home remodeling company.

“I began to realize that his business judgment was not as good as it had always been,” says Loretta. “Family and friends could always rely on Bob’s business judgment and recommendations. Some little glitches began occurring. He would begin asking me questions repeatedly.”

After a visit to their local primary care physician, Bob and Loretta were informed that he could have Alzheimer’s disease, a gradual neurodegenerative condition that leads to roughly 60-70% of dementia cases. The most common early symptom of the disease is short-term memory loss, followed by more advanced complications with language, disorientation, and mood swings.

Unfortunately, there is no single clinical test that can be given to identify the condition, except for an autopsy after the patient has passed. However, with recent advancements in the field, doctors have been able to increase diagnostic accuracy greatly.

“The transition from being a wife and a love, to a parent and a caregiver because Bob developed Alzheimer’s – I lost my best friend, my love, my comrade, my business companion, I lost it all. That’s the most difficult part!,” says Jean.

Many times, an Alzheimer’s patient, and their family in a traditional medicine system, would be somewhat written off. Yet here’s a gentleman who still retains a lot of dignity, you have a loving wife who is devoted to him. She made it her mission to make sure he had the very best care and began the journey of navigating this complicated disease.


What Is Alzheimer’s?

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive neurologic disorder that causes the brain to shrink and brain cells to die. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia — a continuous decline in thinking, behavioral and social skills that affect a person’s ability to function independently.

The early signs of the disease include forgetting recent events or conversations. As the disease progresses, a person with Alzheimer’s disease will develop severe memory impairment and lose the ability to carry out everyday tasks.

Medications may temporarily improve or slow the progression of symptoms. These treatments can sometimes help people with Alzheimer’s disease maximize function and maintain independence for a time. Different programs and services can help support people with Alzheimer’s disease and their caregivers.

There is no treatment that cures Alzheimer’s disease or alters the disease process in the brain. In advanced stages of the disease, complications from severe loss of brain function — such as dehydration, malnutrition, or infection — result in death.

 


Symptoms

Memory loss is the key symptom of Alzheimer’s disease. Early signs include difficulty remembering recent events or conversations. As the disease progresses, memory impairments worsen, and other symptoms develop.

At first, a person with Alzheimer’s disease may be aware of having difficulty remembering things and organizing thoughts. A family member or friend may be more likely to notice how the symptoms worsen.


Now, Where Did I Put That?

Everyone has occasional memory lapses, but the memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s disease persists and worsens, affecting the ability to function at work or at home.

Pay attention to the following behaviors:

  • Repeat statements and questions over and over
  • Forget conversations, appointments, or events, and not remember them later
  • Routinely misplace possessions, often putting them in illogical locations
  • Get lost in familiar places
  • Eventually, forget the names of family members and everyday objects
  • Have trouble finding the right words to identify objects, express thoughts, or take part in conversations.


Multitasking Can Be Difficult Or At Times, Impossible

Alzheimer’s disease causes difficulty concentrating and thinking, especially about abstract concepts such as numbers. (Remember when Bob had trouble balancing the books of his construction business?)

Multitasking is hard, and it may be challenging to manage finances, balance checkbooks, and pay bills on time. Eventually, a person with Alzheimer’s may be unable to recognize and deal with numbers.


Poor Judgement Begins To Become More Frequent

Alzheimer’s causes a decline in the ability to make reasonable decisions and judgments in everyday situations. For example, remember when Bob had dressed in summer clothes when it was November and 45 degrees outside? It becomes more difficult to respond effectively to everyday problems, such as food burning on the stove or unexpected driving situations.


Routine Tasks Become More Challenging and Take Longer

Once-routine activities that require sequential steps, such as planning and cooking a meal or playing a favorite game, become a struggle as the disease progresses. Eventually, people with advanced Alzheimer’s often forget how to perform basic tasks such as dressing and bathing.


Noticeable Personality Changes

Brain changes that occur in Alzheimer’s disease can affect moods and behaviors. Problems may include the following:

  • Depression
  • Apathy
  • Social withdrawal
  • Mood swings
  • Distrust in others
  • Irritability and aggressiveness
  • Changes in sleeping habits
  • Wandering
  • Loss of inhibitions
  • Delusions, such as believing something has been stolen

Prevention Tips

Alzheimer’s disease is not a preventable condition. However, several lifestyle risk factors for Alzheimer’s can be modified. Evidence suggests that changes in diet, exercise, and habits — steps to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease — may also lower your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and other disorders that cause dementia.

Heart-healthy lifestyle choices that may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s include the following:

  • Exercising regularly
  • Eating a diet of fresh produce, healthy oils, and foods low in saturated fat such as a Mediterranean diet
  • Following treatment guidelines to manage high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol
  • Asking your doctor for help to quit smoking if you smoke

Studies have shown that preserved thinking skills later in life and a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease are associated with participating in social events, reading, dancing, playing board games, creating art, playing an instrument, and other activities that require mental and social engagement.


Local Support

Alzheimer’s Association: Heart of America Chapter |  913-831-3888   |   24-hour line: 800-272-3900 |  alz.org/kansascity

KU Clinical Research Center / Alzheimer’s Disease Center  |  913-588-0555   |   913-588-6981  | KUalzheimers.org

Sources: MedicalNewsToday.com, WebMD, alz.org

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