• July 8, 2020

CATES: Alzheimer’s Awareness Month - Odessa American: People

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CATES: Alzheimer’s Awareness Month

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Posted: Monday, June 1, 2020 4:00 am

I think most nurses end up with a list of “things I pray I never get” after a few years of working as a nurse. Very high on my list of things I pray I never get is Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s is so hard on patients and it’s even worse on families. I heard a doctor a very long time ago describe it as “the forgetting disease”. That doctor went on to say, “People with Alzheimer’s forget in reverse order of how they learned.” People with this disease start out by forgetting recent things, like new people at church, a conversation you had with them yesterday, or how to get to their doctor’s office. But as it progresses it gets to be more significant things, like family members or where they live. Eventually, they forget the things they learned as babies—how to walk, how to eat, and finally how to breathe. I have never heard it described better. That description not only puts it in non-medical terminology really well, it makes it so easy to understand how hard this disease can be on patients and families. It’s no big deal to forget where you put your shoes or if you miss an appointment. It is a very big deal, for the person and for their loved ones, when someone forgets their grandchild or spouse.

Alzheimer’s disease is a degenerative brain disease and the most common form of dementia. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, there are several signs of Alzheimer’s disease that you should be aware of if you are concerned that you or someone you love may have Alzheimer’s disease. 1) Memory loss that disrupts daily life, 2) Challenges in planning or solving problems, 3) Difficulty completing familiar tasks, 4) Confusion with time or place, 5) Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships, 6) New problems with words in speaking or writing, 7) Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps, 8) Decreased or poor judgement 9) Withdrawal from work or social activities, and 10) Changes in mood or personality. Many of these things are normal. Just because you forgot where you left your keys or you thought it was Tuesday when it’s actually Wednesday does not mean you have Alzheimer’s disease. But a frequent pattern of the things on this list is something that needs to be discussed with your primary health care provider.

Alzheimer’s as with so many things, the sooner it is detected, the better chance we have to manage it. While there is no cure for Alzheimer’s at this time, there are many things available that can help slow the progression of Alzheimer’s and keep symptoms under control for as long as possible. The biggest advance in the past few years has been the medications available to help with memory. Alzheimer’s destroys cells or parts of cells in the brain and vital connections between those cells are lost. The medications for memory work by affecting the chemicals that help brain cells communicate.

Other advances in Alzheimer’s care in the last few years is our understanding of how Alzheimer’s can affect behavior and how to deal with those behavior changes. Medications can also help with some of those things like anxiety or depression. There is also help available in the form of support groups, specialized counseling, and physical therapy. Sleep changes are very common among people with Alzheimer’s. Medications in this case, are usually a last resort because of concerns about interactions and side effects, fortunately there are some great non-medical options out there to help with sleep. Two of the best ways to combat sleep disorders are sunlight and exercise. They help the brain know when to wake up and then go to sleep.

The Alzheimer’s Association states that the person who will be cured of Alzheimer’s is alive right now. That is so encouraging. One day in the not-so-far future, Alzheimer’s awareness will still be targeted towards early detection, but not because we want to slow its progress, but so we can cure it before Alzheimer’s destroys cells in someone’s brain.

Even though there is not a cure, if you are seeing the symptoms of Alzheimer’s in yourself or someone you love, please speak to your primary health care provider. The Alzheimer’s Association is also a great resource for support, information, and even on how you can become involved in helping with Alzheimer’s research.

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