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Overview of Alzheimer's Disease

Alzheimer's disease (AD) was first discovered over a hundred years ago but research into its symptoms, causes, risk factors and treatment has gained increased interest only in the past 30 years. Although we have learned a lot about this disease, there is much to be discovered about the biological changes that cause Alzheimer's, why it progresses at different rates among afflicted individuals, and how the disease can be prevented, slowed or stopped.

Alzheimer's affects people in different ways. The most common is a gradual loss of memory and the inability to learn new information. This happens because the first neurons to malfunction are in the region of the brain where we form new memories, therefore "the forgetting" begins. As neurons in other parts of the brain die, other symptoms of Alzheimer's appears. These include:

  • Memory loss that disrupts daily life.
  • Problem solving or planning becomes challenging.
  • Completing simple tasks. • Confusion with time or place.
  • Decreased or poor judgment. • Mood and personality changes.
  • Misplacing things and inability to retrace steps.
  • Word finding difficulties in speaking and writing

Individuals progress through Alzheimer's at different rates. For some it is a slow and gradual decline, almost unnoticeable to friends and family, with the occasional joke about having a senior moment. As they pass through the different stages of the disease, AD individuals’ cognitive and functional abilities decline. In the final stages of the disease, people need assistance with basic activities such as bathing, dressing, toileting, eating, ability to communicate, and fail to recognize loved ones. This time is especially difficult for care partners and family.

Pharmacologic Treatment of Alzheimer’s disease are treatments in which medication is administered to slow or stop an illness or treat its symptoms. Most medications for AD has not been promising. The effectiveness of these drugs varies from person to person. Non-pharmacologic therapy includes physical therapy, music therapy, reminiscence therapy, and art therapy. Meeting the needs of the individual with a combination of all therapies seems to be most beneficial.

Care partners that have educated themselves, learned how to manage the changes in behavior and personality, kept open lines of communication with family members and friends, utilized resources available to them, and take care of themselves are among my most honored. I am fortunate that I have learned so much from my caregivers, their resilience, determination, and faith never ceases to amaze me.

Pam Polowski is a Certified Dementia Practitioner at Infinity HomeCare. You may contact her at 941-484-7292.