Mrs. S’s 70-year-old husband forgot to pick the grandkids from school today. She did notice something has been up with him lately but just couldn’t understand what. Is old age catching up to him? He never remembers anything she tells him to do these days. Sometimes he has difficulty remembering names of some family members. Sometimes he forgets what he was doing in the middle of a task. Along with memory loss, she has been noticing that he gets very confused sometimes, gets worried and anxious. Furthermore, hesitates in doing a lot of regular important tasks. Is this general cognitive impairment that comes with old age or are these symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease?
What is Alzheimer’s disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder. Which means that it is a progressive disease that breaks down and destroys neuronal connections. This causes a decline in memory, thinking, behaviour, and other mental capabilities. This is a progressive form of dementia where the changes interfere with the daily life of the individual.
How do you choose a treatment?
Once you visit a doctor, he/she will decide a treatment plan based on:
- Your age
- Your physical health and medical history
- The stage of Alzheimer’s (it can be an early-onset or a moderate to severe level of impairment)
- Lifestyle factors based on which certain medicines or therapy can be decided
- Yours or your family’s preferences
What are the treatment options for Alzheimer’s disease?
Is Alzheimer’s curable?
Unfortunately, there is no known cure for Alzheimer’s disease as of today. The treatment options that are available, though, help ease the difficulty in daily living. Also, reduce the impact of the symptoms, and delay the progression of the disease for as long as possible.
- During the early stages, your doctor may prescribe medication to help maintain high levels of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine which helps maintain learning and memory in the brain and helps nerve cells communicate with each other.
- During later stages, your doctor may prescribe a drug called memantine which helps in blocking the effects of excessive levels of the neurotransmitter glutamate to stop it from causing further damage to brain cells.
- Other necessary medication like antidepressants or antianxiety medication may be prescribed to treat the depression or anxiety that can come with Alzheimer’s. Antipsychotics can also be prescribed to treat any hallucinations, agitation, and aggression that accompany the disease.
Like with anything, medication cannot have full effect if treatment is not holistic. Other forms of treatment, activities, and caregiver support are just as important for the caregivers. Some forms of non-medical treatment that are available are:
- Cognitive stimulation therapy which involves taking part in group activities and exercises that are designed to improve memory and problem-solving skills.
- Cognitive rehabilitation which involves daily regular work with a trained professional or a family member who can monitor and regularly train you to do basic tasks by practising each step regularly and maintaining a schedule. It works by getting you to use the parts of your brain that are working to help the parts that are not.
- The third type of approach that is very important and that loved ones can help with is reminiscence and life story work. In this approach, the individual is encouraged to talk about things and events from their past. Or at least be constantly reminded of things from their past with the help of photos, favourite possessions, or favourite music. Evidence shows that this approach can improve mood and well-being and also cognitively engage the brain using familiarity.
How can I help as a caregiver?
Being a caregiver (whether family or friend) for a person with Alzheimer’s can get very challenging. It can get distressing and confusing for you as you take care of the person, manage the symptoms, get frustrated, feel guilty, stop taking care of your own mental health. Being an Alzheimer’s caregiver requires patience, creativity, stamina to ride it out to see the rewarding nature of helping someone you care about. It’s important to remember to take care of yourself as this can be so stressful that you forget to focus on your nutrition and exercise.
How do I cope?
- Remind yourself at all times that the person is not acting mean or difficult, these are just symptoms of the disease.
- Identifying the cause and how the symptoms are being experienced by the person may help you better understand the problem as well.
- Avoid being confrontational with the person even when they say things or express desires that don’t make sense to you and sometimes even behave like a child in doing so. For example, if a person repeatedly stands by the door and says he sees his friend going to work and demands that even he wants to go (when in fact in reality this situation doesn’t exist), instead of arguing with him, try to creatively agree with him and find a make-believe story that he may be comfortable with.
- Respond to the emotion, not the behaviour, flexibly, patiently, and supportively.
- Create a calm and peaceful environment by reducing as much noise, glaring light, limited space, and constant background distraction as possible.
- Give the person time to rest and do nothing between any tasks that you might be trying to engage them in. Remind yourself that the confusion and agitation can be very exhausting for them.
- Acknowledge the person’s requests and respond to them creatively.
- Remember not to take the person’s behaviour personally and remember to meet other people, join support groups where you can and share your experiences and difficulties.
5 things you can do to prevent Alzheimer’s
Just as there is no known cure for the disease, steps to prevent it are not foolproof. Healthy lifestyle habits can help in preventing cognitive decline. Some of them are:
- Avoid smoking.
- Exercise regularly.
- Eat more plant-based dishes and fruits that contain antioxidants.
- Maintain an active social life which will help keep you engaged with your surroundings.
- Keep your mind regularly engaged by basic brain-training exercises like puzzles, crosswords, memory games, etc.
Dealing with Alzheimer’s disease can be difficult especially when you know that it cannot be cured but that does not mean that you need to succumb to a lifestyle that you do not want and let the disease win. If you consider as many beneficial treatment options as possible, the life of the person with the disease and that of the caregiver can be largely made better. For more queries call us at +91 96111 94949 or visit our website www.cadabams.org