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Alzheimer's Disease frustrating; demands patience PDF Print E-mail
Friday, October 04, 2013 12:00 AM


Herald Editor

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According to the Alzheimer’s Association website, more than 5 million people in the United States suffer from the disease today.

Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior. Symptoms usually develop slowly and get worse over time, becoming severe enough to interfere with daily tasks.

The most common early symptom of Alzheimer’s is difficulty remembering newly-learned information because Alzheimer’s changes typically begin in the part of the brain that affects learning. As Alzheimer’s advances, it leads to increasingly severe symptoms, including disorientation, mood and behavior changes; deepening confusion about events, time and place; unfounded suspicions about family, friends and professional caregivers; more serious memory loss and behavior changes; and difficulty speaking, swallowing and walking.

Registered Nurse Shelley Garwood, Sarah Jane Living Center director of nursing, knows how Alzheimer’s can affect family members as well as those who suffer from the disease.

“Alzheimer’s is a disease where you lose a loved one twice,” Garwood said. “The first time you lose who they are and the second time you lose them physically.”

Garwood said Alzheimer’s is frustrating for everyone.

“In the early stages it’s frustrating for the one who has it, especially if they realize they are declining. It’s also scary,” she said. “Caregivers are also frustrated and many times don’t get a break from caring for a loved one.”

Patients who suffer from Alzheimer’s can easily become agitated because they are unable to remember something or find with the right word when talking. They can also pick up on others’ emotions without knowing why they feel that way.

According to Garwood, Alzheimer’s patients respond well to music and the center often plays it softly in the background during meal time.

In the early stages of the disease, Garwood said reorienting may work to keep the family member calmer.

“It may help to have them do an activity they’ve done for a long time like fold towels,” she said. “Changing the environment can also help; move them to another room or outside. What works will depend on each person. Sometimes, nothing works.”

The center also tries to minimize the sound in common areas. Garwood said Alzheimer’s patients have difficulty filtering when they are exposed to more than one stimulus at a time.

Patients also enjoy playing cards, reading the newspaper, old movies and TV shows they watched when they were younger and playing simple games.

Like a toddler who missed nap time, Garwood said Alzheimer’s patients are likely to be more agitated as the day progresses. The center added an activities director for the late afternoon hours to help address this.

“They are referred to as ‘sundowners.’ We’ve play fun games and read to them and try to keep the stress down,” she said.

Families can do some things when their loved one is in the early stages that will help later on.

“Families can get an album together of family photos and labels so when the person’s memory slips, they have a reference and something that can be looked at together with visitors,” Garwood said. “Their loved may even be able to help put it together.”

Another task that is helpful if completed early is safeguarding the home. Later-stage Alzheimer’s patients are prone to wandering and pacing. Doors should be secured and furniture may need to be moved to accommodate the pacing.

“I know someone who rigged a garage door opener to alert the family if a door was opened while they were sleeping,” she added.

One thing invaluable to someone caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s is patience. Garwood said family members often feel helpless and frustrated because a loved one no longer recalls who they are or cherished memories.

“It’s better when everyone is calm and the stimulation is reduced,” she said. “You need to try and refocus the person and get past the moment.”

The 10 early signs of Alzheimer’s are:

• Memory loss that disrupts daily life.

• Challenges in planning or solving problems.

• Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure.

• Confusion with time or place.

• Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relations.

• New problems with words in speaking or writing.

• Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps.

• Decreased or poor judgement.

• Withdrawal from work or social activities.

• Change in mood and personality.

For more information on Alzheimer’s, visit


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