In behavioral health, alzheimer’s disease has always been a widespread topic of conversation. From resources allocated to research, to support for those diagnosed, to support for the caregivers of those diagnosed, there is no shortage of attempts to cure the disease, or at least lessen its effects. For those already diagnosed, however, the descent into alzheimer’s can be painful and frustrating. It sometimes helps if the patient and caregivers both know as much as they can about the process.
For instance, alzheimer’s has three stages – early, middle, and late. The early stage of alzheimer’s is when the patient is first diagnosed and exhibits mild symptoms. There will be some signals that alzheimer’s is present, such as memory loss and mixing up times and places, but in many cases it is difficult to tell that an individual at an early stage has the disease at all. This is a stage in which caregivers must push the patient toward independent living and joining a support group for those diagnosed.
The middle stage of alzheimer’s is the one in which frustration starts to manifest. Damage to the brain is more extensive in this stage, and it is common to have difficulty expressing thoughts and to have spontaneous mood swings. While independence should still be given to the patient, caregivers have to take on more responsibility. Patience is the main virtue during this stage. The patient will act out and do things he or she would not normally do.
The late stage of alzheimer’s is when the patient loses all ability to verbally express him or herself in a coherent manner, and when he or she needs the most care. Unfortunately, this stage can include difficulties eating, walking, and moving in general. In the late stage, it is most common for caregivers to enlist help to take full time care of the patient.
There are several behaviors besides those listed above that are common for an individual with alzheimer’s. As the disease progresses, patients have a tendency to become increasingly aggressive, especially toward their caregivers. It is important to remember that such aggression is brought on by alzheimer’s, not by how the patient feels toward the caregiver. Another behavior to be aware of is a change in sleep schedule. Commonly referred to as ‘sundowning,’ patients tend to experience restlessness in the night and drowsiness during the day. For this reason amongst others, it is important to keep patients on a regular daily schedule.
Alzheimer’s is a terrible disease that can take over the lives of patients and those caring for them. As health technology continues to progress, I am confident that alzheimer’s will become treatable. Until then, however, we must keep putting all of the intelligent minds and resources we can toward understanding more about this condition, and toward fighting it.