A field of nursing that I have enjoyed working in, as a caregiver, is with the elderly population. Many times I have encountered seniors in a home setting that are showing signs and symptoms of dementia, and/or Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s disease is actually a specific form of dementia; all Alzheimer’s disease patients have dementia, but not all dementia patients have Alzheimer’s disease. To clarify what I mean: Dementia is the progressive deterioration of mental function, whereas Alzheimer’s disease is an irreversible and progressive brain disease that ultimately ends in death. Further, Alzheimer’s disease destroys the memory and thinking skills.
The stages of Alzheimer’s disease are generally categorized into three distinct categories: mild, moderate and severe. With the mild stage you will find the patient takes longer to complete activities of daily living (i.e. eating, bathing, laundry, toileting, dressing), they may be confused by paying bills or handling money, you might see them getting lost or losing things. In addition, one might find mood swings or changes in personality, slight memory loss and poor judgment. As the disease progresses to stage two, the Alzheimer’s patient will display a further increase in memory loss, confusion, paranoia, impulsive behavior and it is not easy for them to learn new things. Finally, stage three shows definite signs of weight loss, possible seizures, difficulty swallowing, an increase in the sleeping pattern, loss of bowel and/or bladder function, and even the inability to recognize friends or family. This stage can be absolutely devastating for family members!
In the home setting, I have found that there are 5 things caregivers can do to help these individuals keep their mind sharp and their memory alive for as long as possible:
o Find something they love to do and keep that favorite thing going everyday, i.e. take a walk in the park, watch their favorite television show or read articles in a magazine. Go to the Internet and learn more about their favorite subject.
o Keep life simple; follow a schedule everyday. Eat at particular times, keep hair appointments to one specific day a week, and enjoy a meal out once a week, on the same day.
o Get lots of rest – take a nap if one feels tired, but don’t sleep the day away. Get up at the same time each day, bathe and then have a nutritious breakfast each and every day!
o Go through scrap books and old pictures, reminding them of family members – their names, ages, etc.
o Get a dog or a cat so that the patient has some responsibility and company in the home. Pet therapy is one of the best methods known to keep a person happy and healthy.
There are many other suggestions for the caregiver in regards to Alzheimer’s disease and keeping the patient’s memory going, but these five seem to be of particular value. The tips are simple, inexpensive and common sense-oriented; they keep the elderly individual with memory problems in check. For other ideas regarding help for the caregiver in handling the Alzheimer’s disease process, please refer to the National Institute on Aging.