Patients and caregivers affected by Alzheimer’s disease are members of an unfortunate and growing fraternity. It is a fraternity to which no one wishes to belong. My family found the induction into the ranks of those suffering with the disease to be brutal and unrelenting. The mind-altering disease robs whole families; patients, as well as their loving caregivers suffer from the thieving illness. Patients are robbed of their fondest memories, and if that weren’t enough, they lose the capacity to independently thrive. Family members and caregivers (most often the same) suddenly find themselves faced with what is left of the person they knew and loved. While love still remains, the depth of that person has been stolen away. Alzheimer’s is a mean disease.
It is not all gloom and doom for Alzheimer patients and their caregivers. Significant strides are being made in the development of treatments that combat the dreaded illness. There is no cure as of yet, but doctors and scientist claim to be getting closer. Gone are the days when losing your memory was an accepted and expected symptom of old age. Back in the ‘old days’, memory loss was thought to be a normal characteristic of the elderly. However, this is debunked by modern day science. Significant memory loss is an abnormality for the aged.
There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, but there are steps which can be taken to slow the debilitating process. If you suspect a loved one is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, or if you find yourself at risk, the following advice may prove crucial in your battle.
Face your fears and see a health professional.
The sooner a diagnosis is made the sooner you can be treated. There is medication available to slow the progression of the disease. However, the medication will not reverse the negative affects of the disease. In other words, it is impossible to regain what the brain will lose. This is why it is imperative to be diagnosed as early as possible.
If you are a caregiver, “take the bull by the horns”.
There is a stigma related with diseases that affect the brain. Though your loved one may recognize their forgetfulness, they may deny the severity of the loss. In fact, if indeed the person in question is in the early stages of Dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, he/she might not recognize that they are losing ground. They may not remember that they are NOT remembering; they forget that they forget. This is where you come in. It is your responsibility to gently draw it to their attention. Keep at it until you are heard. If necessary solicit the assistance of siblings and other loved ones to help convince the possible dementia patient to be tested. It may prove advantageous to seek out a trusted friend, or your loved one’s spiritual leader. Sometimes a quiet conversation with a peer will be more effective.
Trust what you know to be true about your loved one.
If you know for a fact that your loved one is experiencing ‘mental slippage’, do not accept a diagnosis which does not support your suspicions. This is easy to do. After all who wants to accept such devastating news? But, denial will not serve your loved one well; nor will it advance your efforts as a caregiver. Find a physician who will tell you, what you do not want to hear; not one who will placate your loved one. Do not accept that “forgetfulness is an acceptable part of old age”. It is and it isn’t. Find a doctor who knows the difference between what is acceptable and what is not. A doctor who specializes in memory loss and brain function is a good choice. Above all, remember that you know your loved one better than anyone.
Educate yourself about the disease.
Now that your loved one has been diagnosed, begin separating fact from fiction. Educate yourself and the patient as to what can be done that is positive for their mental health. Contact the National Alzheimer’s Foundation for support and to find a Memory Clinic in your city. (http://www.alzfdn.org/) Talk with your chosen health professional about diet, prescription medication, and supplements. All of these can be helpful in slowing the progression of the disease.
An Alzheimer’s diagnosis warrants mourning, but, in as much as there is a time to mourn there is also a time to ‘make lemonade’. As surely as life will become more challenging, there is still life to live. More than ever it is important to live “in the moment”; grasp on to life, enjoying it as fully as possible. You have today, this moment, and this second. Live in the present before the past is completely forgotten.