Alzheimer’s: A Guide For The Caretaker

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26th Jun 2014

Alzheimer’s disease is a devastating medical condition which has a shattering effect not only to the individual who suffers from the disease, but as well as those caring for the individual along with the rippling effects throughout society.  The sad consequences of dealing with a loved one who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, includes placing an individual’s family and friends in the difficult position of watching that person slowly deteriorate, and waste away physically, mentally and emotionally, all while also being forced to deal with abnormal and upsetting behavior.  Alzheimer’s causes an increased number of brain cells to die, severing brain connections which result in serious memory loss, physical disability, and other major problems. Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, accounting for over 60% of all patients with dementia.


Alzheimer’s has been reported to be the seventh leading cause of death in the United States, with an average duration of from 8 to 10 years.  Studies have determined that Alzheimer’s appears to manifest itself more in women, and in people with less education.  Because Alzheimer’s has a gradual onset and results in a slow, progressive decline, three stages have been delineated: (1) between one and three years, the individual suffering from Alzheimer’s will have anterograde amnesia (an inability to remember new information), visual-spatial deficits, indifference, irritability, and sadness.  Generally family and friends do not grasp the fact that the disease is becoming a factor in their lives, as it is not patently obvious since the symptoms do not occur suddenly, the initial stage may defy recognition The tendency is to blame the symptoms on aging and overlook the underlying problem; (2) between two and ten years, individuals suffering from Alzheimer’s generally experience increasing retrograde amnesia (an inability to remember the past), a somber mood, occasional delusions, and aphasia.  The abnormal behavior becomes more noticeable as the individual demonstrates little to no emotion, or by demonstrating emotional extremes. During this phase of the diseased individuals tend to exhibit irrational delusions that may include fear that their loved ones are actually trying to do them harm; (3) between eight and ten years of initial onset, the individual suffering from Alzheimer’s will experience a severe downward spiral deterioration of his/her overall intelligence, loss of memory – sometimes remembering loved ones, and at other times not recognizing spouses or children, additional symptoms include apathy, loss of mobility, and incontinence.  These last two stages of Alzheimer’s are exacerbated by suffering of not only the individual inflicted with the disease, but also to family and friends as they watch their loved one waste away, and exhibit irrational and sometimes mean actions.


As the disease progresses, the caretaker needs to make a decision to place the individual in a special nursing home equipped to care for these individuals, or to attempt to continue to care for the patient themselves.  Many people cannot face placing their loved ones into a care center as they believe such a facility has no real concern for their loved one, and they continue to believe that they can provide the best care for them at home -where the individual suffering from the disease would want to be.  There are numerous difficult issues which arise in attempting to care for an individual with Alzheimer disease, not the of least which include: that the person will require around-the-clock monitoring, often times Alzheimer patients do not recognize weather conditions and attempt to leave in the summer wearing an overcoat, or in sub-freezing weather  wearing nothing but a tee shirt.  Additionally, many individuals with this disease believe they can drive, when in fact it is not safe to do so, or, they lose track of time and can wander away from the family home during the middle of the night.  In the latter stages of this debilitating disease, the person may become a danger to themself, or others.  Caring for an individual with Alzheimer’s is an exhausting task and should not be undertaken lightly.  The caretaker may experience a barrage of extreme emotions from the individual suffering from the disease and be required to contend with dangerous delusions, and simultaneously have to repeatedly clean the patient as the result of incontinence.  It is clear that a single caretaker cannot safely look after an individual with Alzheimer’s by himself/herself.  If, as a caretaker, you are unwilling to place your loved one in a special nursing home, it is imperative that you have at least one (but preferably more), other caretakers to assist you in splitting the load.  To be an effective caretaker, one of the most important things you must take care of is yourself.  By having time away from the individual with Alzheimer’s, you will be able to replenish your energy, which will give you the strength to continue your duties.


In order to become a healthy caregiver it is imperative that you take care of yourself.  See your physician regularly (at least annually), and listen to what your body is telling you.  Any exhaustion, stress, sleeplessness, or changes in appetite or behavior should be taken seriously.  As the Alzheimer’s Association counsels, ignoring these symptoms can cause your physical and mental health to decline.  For more information about Alzheimer’s and caring for people with the disease, a good place to start is the Alzheimer’s Association at