The Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation receives a lot of questions from visitors to our website, readers of Preserving Your Memory magazine and others who call our offices. Here are a few of the questions we hear frequently.
I want to keep my loved one with Alzheimer’s at home, but don’t know if I can handle it. Any suggestions?
Taking care of a person with Alzheimer’s at home can be extraordinarily overwhelming. That’s why it’s very important to seek support. By joining a support group, you can learn a lot of caregiving strategies. You can also learn about government resources and how to file for Medicaid and getting outside support. If you need respite as a caregiver, for example, there are resources available through your local department of aging that will give you a break from the situation. In addition, you can educate yourself and learn some of the strategies of caregiving that can make home care a little more manageable.
It is also important to remember that every person’s situation is different. It is really a family matter in which you need to sit down and decide whether keeping the person with Alzheimer’s at home is right for you and best for him or her. Identify resources in your area. Contact them and speak with your doctors to help you reach the right decision.
My father has Alzheimer’s and is very agitated. What do I do?
The first thing you need to do is to educate yourself about what causes agitation in an Alzheimer’s patient and to learn some of the resources and strategies for dealing with agitation.
Approach your father in a calm, soothing manner. Use short, easy words and straightforward communication. In addition, try to figure out what is causing the agitation by looking at what happens right before the episode of agitation and right after it. Then, by changing whatever is triggering the agitation or its consequences, you may be able to correct it.
Sometimes, this means just giving a person a little bit of time. This can be very helpful. For caregivers, joining a support group and getting help is also very important. If the agitation persists, then consult the patient’s doctor for help. Various drugs, such as anti-depressants are used successfully to treat agitation in Alzheimer’s disease.
What new Alzheimer’s drugs and vaccines are on the horizon?
Because of the advances in recent years in our understanding of the basic science and genetics of Alzheimer’s disease, now for the first time in medical history it is possible to develop medicines that are aimed at the underlying cause of the disease. The currently available medicines, like Aricept, Exelon, Razadyne, and Namenda all relieve the symptoms somewhat, but none directly attacks the cause of the disease. The major compounds being assessed now all have the common feature of attacking the toxic beta-amyloid substance that poisons the brains of those with Alzheimer’s, and the goal is to eradicate toxic levels of this substance from the brain.
What are some things you can do to help an Alzheimer’s patient maintain mental acuity as long as possible?
Alzheimer’s care has become more “strengths-based” in recent years, reflecting a change in how health care practitioners look at the families and the person with Alzheimer’s. In other words, determine what the person can do and what skills they do retain, and then give them tasks to encourage the types of activities that will keep those skills as sharp as possible for as long as they can. As a very simple example, if the person has been used to folding clothes, encourage them to fold clothes instead of taking this “job” away from them. Empower the person with Alzheimer’s to do the things they can do.
What is “memory coaching,” and how can it help someone with Alzheimer’s?
Memory coaching is a method that caregivers can use to help people with Alzheimer’s disease learn forgotten and new skills. In the early stages of Alzheimer’s, for instance, you can teach a patient to brush their teeth, exercise, and do some of those things that they presently no longer do. In the middle stages, you can teach them to eat with a knife and fork, for example, or help with incontinence. And in the end stages, you can help people with walking and learning to sit up independently.
The earlier that you work with patients on memory coaching, the better the result. Memory coaching is encouraging because by working with your loved one with Alzheimer's , you may be able to enhance their functioning. It’s based on experience. It allows people to continue to live their life and to participate in their life as much as possible. They don’t become completely independent, and they still have to work with the caregiver. But it is a great help.
I read somewhere that research is being done on rats using the spice curry to see if it slows/stops the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Is this true?
Evidently, curry contains an oil known as curcumin, which in rats has been shown to raise the activity of an enzyme that protects cells against free radicals, which are the byproducts of cellular processes. Free radicals are believed to contribute to a variety of diseases that include neurodegenerative disease (e.g., Alzheimer’s). There is no current evidence that curry can prevent Alzheimer’s disease. However, it does appear that there is less Alzheimer’s disease in India, a country known for its consumption of curries.
How do I know the difference between Alzheimer’s and ordinary forgetfulness?
It’s not always apparent, and your physician is the best source to help distinguish between ordinary forgetfulness, Alzheimer’s disease, or other types of memory loss.
Doctors apply a number of technical terms to different stages or levels of memory impairment. Dementia is defined as a loss of thinking ability that makes the affected individual unable to live independently. It can occur as a result of HIV infection, for example, in younger people. But in the elderly, more than two-thirds of all dementia is a result of Alzheimer’s disease.
As memory and thinking ability in elderly people have been studied in greater detail, a syndrome called “mild cognitive impairment,” or MCI, has come to be appreciated by doctors. MCI is another form of cognitive decline but is not considered dementia because people with MCI are able to live independently and maintain their occupations. However, it is more severe than the mild forgetfulness common to many elderly, a condition not associated with the disease. In MCI, cognitive problems may be confined to one part of thinking. For example, memory might be involved, but reasoning or personality might not. Or language might be involved and memory spared. There is a risk that MCI will progress to Alzheimer’s disease, especially when it involves loss of short-term memory, but its progression is not guaranteed and many with MCI will remain stable for years. Neuropsychological testing by an expert is required to distinguish between normal forgetfulness, MCI and Alzheimer’s disease.
If you would like to submit a question to our experts or need additional information, please call 1-800-ALZINFO, visit ALZinfo.org or send surface mail to: Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation, West 46th Street & 12th Avenue, New York, NY 10036; or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Source: www.ALZinfo.org. Preserving Your Memory: The Magazine of Health and Hope; Summer 2007.