Alzheimer’s is one of the biggest issues seniors and caregivers face today. More than 5 million people have Alzheimer’s and millions more have their lives turned upside down by the needs of caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s.
Memory care is expensive, but for families that can’t afford to spend the time required to properly care for an Alzheimer’s patient, it’s a necessity. For a huge number of families in the United States (and around the world), this disease will be a defining aspect of their lives for many years.
We know Alzheimer’s is common and we know it has a significant impact on patients that have it and their loved ones, but do you really know what Alzheimer’s is?
How Alzheimer’s Was Discovered
The history of Alzheimer’s likely goes back much further than our awareness of a specific disease. For much of history, all types of dementia tended to be lumped under the common term of “senility” or simply seen as a common effect of old age.
Alzheimer’s got a name and a specific explanation in 1906, when the doctor Alois Alzheimer performed an autopsy on a patient who had experienced memory problems before her death. He found abnormal clumps around the brain’s nerve cells and tangled bundles of fiber in the brain. His discovery was the beginning of Alzheimer’s research.
What Is Alzheimer’s?
Like many diseases of the human body, what we know about Alzheimer’s is limited. The tangled bundles that Alzheimer found are made up of protein deposits and are now called amyloid plaques. The twisted bands of fiber are called neurofibrillary.
These seem to be the main physical factors that contribute to the symptoms of Alzheimer’s and researchers have now found that these changes to the brain begin years before people start to show signs of cognitive problems. The damage they cause starts in the hippocampus, the part of the brain that forms memories, then over time spreads to other parts of the brain.
The symptoms of Alzheimer’s start slow. A person starts to have trouble remembering things, but can still basically take care of themselves. As the disease progresses though, the memory problems become more extreme and people begin to also exhibit mood swings, difficulty reasoning, and an inability to manage the daily tasks of living.
What an Alzheimer’s Diagnosis Means for Seniors
In the early stages, it will mean a lot of minor annoyances. You’ll lose your keys more often, get lost sometimes, and might have a hard time finding the right word when talking to friends. Over time, it will mean you lose the ability to drive, don’t always recognize your loved ones, and will need help taking care of yourself at a basic level.
Progressing from the early stage to the more severe symptoms often takes time – it could even take over a decade. Seniors with an Alzheimer’s diagnosis should have a serious discussion with their families about what to expect and how to handle the symptoms that come as they arise. Alzheimer’s patients will need to be able to trust loved ones to help them recognize when it’s time to hand over more of their care to others.
When your family says it’s time to stop driving, you need to trust them. When they suggest that it’s time to consider an assisted living facility with memory care, you should try to remember they have your best interests in mind (although the disease will make that a challenge).
Facing an Alzheimer’s diagnosis is difficult. But you’re not alone and as the disease continues to affect more families, you can trust that researchers will continue to give it the attention it deserves. Many smart people are searching for ways to treat and slow down the disease, while others are working on figuring out the best solutions to care for Alzheimer’s patients in ways that improve their quality of life.
Try not to despair, and instead, make the time you have with your loved ones now count. Alzheimer’s might take a lot from you, but if you have family and friends beside you the worst of it will be more manageable.