GeriatricNursing.org Full Article: https://geriatricnursing.org/alzheimers-disease/
Alzheimer’s Disease Signs and Symptoms, courtesy of GeriatricNursing.org
ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE: TIME TO TAKE A CLOSER LOOK
ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE: TIME TO TAKE A CLOSER LOOK
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Alzheimer’s Disease Signs and Symptoms, courtesy of GeriatricNursing.org
Everyone misplaces things now and then; all of us forget names, to our embarrassment. Occasionally we feel out of sorts and moody and can act out of character. For someone with Alzheimer’s disease, however, these behaviors occur much frequently; they become symptoms of a growing problem, one that can’t be fixed by a good night’s sleep or a relaxing vacation.
Alzheimer’s disease is devastating – both to the one who is suffering with it and to their loved ones who stand by helplessly and watch. Most of us have been touched in some way by Alzheimer’s – a family member or a friend has been stricken with it – but what really is Alzheimer’s disease? Where does it come from? What can be done about it?
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive brain disorder that over time destroys an individual’s ability to remember things, communicate with others, and function on a practical basis. As a sufferer’s memory begins to fade, their personality and behavior often undergo drastic changes. This can be very upsetting to family members who don’t understand what is wrong.
Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia. It attacks the area of the brain that has to do with thoughts and language. Alzheimer’s causes problems in an otherwise healthy individual, issues that are severe enough to interfere with a person’s work and social life.
HISTORY OF ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE
Alzheimer’s disease was first discovered in 1906 by Dr. Alois Alzheimer, a German physician. He identified a group of brain cell abnormalities after conducting an autopsy on a woman who had died after years of experiencing severe memory loss and mental confusion. He observed thick plaque around the nerve cells in her brain as well as a tangle of twisted fibers; these two factors are needed even today to determine if a person has Alzheimer’s, which means that a realistic diagnosis can still only be made through an autopsy.
However, by examining a patient’s history and performing medical tests, physicians are able to make an accurate diagnosis and prescribe treatment to slow the disease’s progression. The earlier this diagnosis, the better the chances are that the treatments will work.
RISK FACTORS FOR ALZHEIMERS DISEASE
While we all are familiar with the major symptoms of the disease, like memory loss and confusion, what isn’t clear is what really causes them in the first place. Scientists now believe that there are various factors that might put people at risk for developing this progressive disease.
The number one risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease is age. Some people do get Alzheimer’s disease in their 30’s or 40’s, but the real risk begins to increase after age 65. Once you reach 85, you have about a 50-50 chance of having Alzheimer’s disease.
Being female is a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. For a while, people thought that there were more women with Alzheimer’s disease than men because women live longer, so there are just more old women than old men. Careful analysis has shown, however, women just have more of a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease than men do.
Another risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease is family history. If you have parents, brothers or sisters with Alzheimer’s disease, your risk of getting it, too, is increased. If one of your close relatives was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease at an early age, your risk is even higher because it may be familial Alzheimer’s disease. Familial Alzheimer’s disease is rare but is directly inherited.
This risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease is related to family history, and research is still being done to see if there are specific genetic factors that cause Alzheimer’s disease. One particular form of a gene for a particular protein, ApoE4, is more prevalent in people with Alzheimer’s disease.
OTHER RISK FACTORS
More than one possible risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease is being studied, but there haven’t been any definite links made yet. Some of the other potential risk factors are:
Having had a head injury
Low educational level
Heart disease and the risk factors for it
If it were found, a modifiable risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease would be one that you could do something about. For example, high cholesterol is a modifiable risk factor for heart disease. If you have high cholesterol, and you change your diet and exercise and get your cholesterol levels down to normal, it decreases your risk of getting heart disease. If we found a similar risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, we could do something to prevent it.
FIVE STANDARD TESTS WHICH MAY REVEAL AN ALZHEIMER’S DIAGNOSIS
Hearing the news that a family member has received an Alzheimer’s diagnosis can be an emotionally devastating moment in anyone’s life. However, before the Alzheimer’s diagnosis can be given to the patient and their family, the patient must undergo a variety of laboratory tests, such as medical assessments and laboratory measurements. There is no single test existing that will categorically give the Alzheimer’s diagnosis.
TYPES OF TESTS TO RULE OUT ALZHEIMER’S
The first type of test a patient will undergo before Alzheimer’s can be ruled out is a medical interview. The patient will also be required to fill out a medical questionnaire by the physician. The interview will focus on the patient’s medical history such as the past ailments and use of medical drugs.
The second type of test a patient will undergo before an Alzheimer’s diagnosis can be ruled out is an extensive physical examination. These types of tests will involve examinations on the patient’s eyesight, blood pressure, and heart beat.
The third type of test a patient will undergo before an Alzheimer’s diagnosis can be ruled out are a series of laboratory examinations. There the patient will provide the laboratory with blood and urine samples. Other examinations will involve taking the patient’s blood count, liver functions, glucose levels, and other tests.
The fourth type of test a patient will undergo before an Alzheimer’s diagnosis can be ruled out is neuropsychological testing. Patients who receive these kinds of examinations can expect to perform abstract thinking, problem-solving tests, and vision-motor coordination. This type of test aims to isolate the problem areas, which might provide clues to the source of the illness.
The fifth type of test a patient undergoes a patient will undergo before an Alzheimer’s diagnosis can be ruled out is a brain-imaging scan. Depending on the doctor’s requirement, the patient may undergo a CT or MRI. MRI, or Magnetic Resonance Imaging, is a radiology technique designed to produce images of the internal structures of the body with the use of radio waves, magnetism, and a computer.
One of the major components of Alzheimer’s disease testing is that which assesses mental capability of the person. A mental status evaluation given by a physician helps to determine their sense of time and place, the ability to understand, remember and communicate. This test also assesses the ability to perform simple mathematical problems.
There is also a series of evaluations that test reasoning, vision-motor coordination, language skills and simple memory functions. The physician may also suggest an evaluation with a psychiatrist, for information regarding moods, and other emotional factors commonly associated with Alzheimer’s disease. The psychological portion of Alzheimer’s disease testing is a relatively simple, quick and non-invasive tool to assess mental capacity.
Although Alzheimer’s disease primarily affects the psychological functions, it also takes its toll on the physical body. Alzheimer’s disease testing has a physical portion that helps to rule out other possibilities for why someone might be experiencing similar symptoms. A primary care physician or diagnostician will likely perform a general physical examination, which will give the doctor information about the person’s nutritional status, pulse, and blood pressure.
They might also perform an examination that tests balance, sensation, and other nervous system; the major area affected by Alzheimer’s disease. A brain scan such as a CT scan or MRI can also be performed to illustrate areas of degeneration caused by Alzheimer’s disease. Several laboratory tests evaluating blood and urine functions can be used to provide information about other possibilities for Alzheimer-like symptoms.
At the conclusion of all these tests, and depending on the results, the physician will inform the patient whether or not it is possible they have Alzheimer’s. The only irrefutable way that an Alzheimer’s diagnosis can be confirmed is during autopsy post-mortem; there the brain tissue of the patient can be examined thoroughly.
Although there is currently no way to stop Alzheimer’s disease once it has affected the body, Alzheimer’s disease testing is an effective way to detect the symptoms and if someone has Alzheimer’s disease, learn ways to deal with the illness while their cognitive functions are still intact.
DETECTION OF EARLY ALZHEIMERS
One of the most important treatments for Alzheimer’s is fast detection, especially for early Alzheimer’s. How though, is it possible to determine whether memory loss or dementia is caused by early Alzheimer’s? Researchers from the University of Zurich in Switzerland established a laboratory test for early detection of Alzheimer’s back in 2013.
This test measures two compounds in the spinal fluid. One of these compounds, known as tau protein, is a key component of twisted nerve cell fibers in the brain with Alzheimer’s. The other compound, beta-amyloid, is a sticky protein around dying nerve cells in brains that have Alzheimer’s.
They found that the ratio of tau to beta-amyloid was significantly higher in people with Alzheimer’s than in people who had other forms of dementia or nervous system disorders or no mental decline.
The scientists concluded that the spinal fluid test could offer “a promising tool” for early detection of Alzheimer’s, but called for additional testing to confirm the results.
Researchers are also looking into imaging techniques such as MRI and PET scans. This helps them find changes in the brain structure and areas of activation that indicate the onset of Alzheimer’s.
There is no lab test that currently detects Alzheimer’s with a high degree of efficiency. Often a definitive diagnosis is not done until an autopsy is completed after the death of the individual has occurred.
General practitioners are not very successful at early detection of Alzheimer’s, but a dementia specialist can predict Alzheimer’s 90 percent of the time. This makes regular visits to a physician a very important part in the early detection of Alzheimer’s.
If early detection of Alzheimer’s is accomplished, then the chances of controlling the disease are much more likely since all of the current treatments require early detection to be the most beneficial. Prompt diagnosis also helps family and friends to prepare for worsening symptoms and make plans for the future of the Alzheimer’s patient.
TESTS FOR THE DETECTION OF EARLY ALZHEIMER’S
Evaluations for early detection of Alzheimer’s will generally include:
Blood and urine tests
Brain imaging scan
These tests can be performed by your regular physician but may be better suited to a neurologist or a geriatric psychiatrist. You can also contact a medical center that provides Alzheimer’s care. You can also find additional information at the National Institute for Aging.
WARNING SIGNS OF ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE
It is important that family members become and aware of the health of their loved ones if early signs of Alzheimer’s disease are exhibited. To avoid confusion between simple acts of forgetfulness and Alzheimer’s it is important to monitor six categorical early signs of Alzheimer’s. Their increased awareness and detection of early warning signs will allow for a timely diagnosis and treatment of your loved ones.
One of the early signs of Alzheimer’s is forgetfulness. This forgetfulness is caused by the ability of Alzheimer’s disease to destroy brain cells. This destruction results in the loss of memory. These memory lapses or loss could be the names of people and places or the inability to find the right words to express themselves. Although forgetfulness is part of the aging process, Alzheimer’s disease is differentiated based on the speed at which the memory begins to decline.
In addition, early signs of Alzheimer’s may include the forgetting the whereabouts of routinely used items. Additionally, early signs of Alzheimer’s could include the storing of items in inappropriate places (shoes in the freezer or rings in the sugar bowl).
Another characteristic in the early signs of Alzheimer’s is depression. Although depression affects the mental health of many individuals it is certainly a good indicator of this disease when coupled with the other early signs of Alzheimer’s.
Additional early signs of Alzheimer’s are the affects clearly seen on the individual’s senses. The sense of smell and the inability to distinguish between odors may be demonstrated. Also, an early sign of hearing loss may be evident as indicated through the loudness of the television, avoiding phone calls and not entering into conversations. Finally, the sense of sight may be affected as revealed through the individual’s inability to recall images or their inability to follow visual instructions or directions
Extreme mood swings can be an indicator of the early signs of Alzheimer’s. These changes are for no apparent reason and can range from the extreme of being rational to irrational or to complete agitation. Also demonstrated can be the shedding of tears with no foundation.
Early signs of Alzheimer’s may be demonstrated in outward actions such as the inappropriateness of dress. This inappropriateness may be demonstrated through the wearing of winter clothing during the hot summer months or vice versa.
Early signs of Alzheimer’s may also include the individual’s helplessness to think clearly. This difficulty may be demonstrated in their inability to perform mathematical functions or other abstract thinking processes.
STAGES OF ALZHEIMER’S
Getting to know the various stages of Alzheimer’s disease is a frustrating process, especially if you are the one living through the affliction. Sufferers of this disorder endure mental strain and confusion as their memory becomes unreliable and spotty, their learning capabilities diminish, and their overall sense of self and the things they once knew become awkwardly hard to grasp. Knowing a stage of Alzheimer’s is fast approaching, many sufferers fear the worst.
The reality of this disease often leaves little room for hope because there is no cure and no adequate treatment that can help curb the confusing episodes of memory loss and loss of faculty. Alzheimer’s is a part of dementia, which affects the elderly, and often leaves the sufferer feeling insane or crazy because they do not understand what is happening to them or how they can escape the feelings of despair and hopelessness.
Alzheimer’s is a devastating disease that affects mental, cognitive and motor ability and subsequently leads to premature death when neurological functions completely shutting down. Because everyone is different and people catch Alzheimer’s disease at various stages, it’s difficult to determine Alzheimer’s disease progression.
However, there does seem to be a set of stages that people go through, although not everyone progresses through each stage, and some may experience mixed symptoms, as its progression is on a time continuum. The following seven stages are often described by patients and their physicians.
In this stage of Alzheimer’s disease progression, individuals are unlikely to experience any memory or cognitive impairments. The effects of Alzheimer’s disease are not evident to the patient, their physician, or their family and friends. At this stage, it is impossible to decipher if a person has Alzheimer’s disease because nothing has been affected.
In this stage of Alzheimer’s disease progression, small impairments are becoming noticeable, though few people actually become diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease because the symptoms are very similar to age-related changes. People may experience short memory lapses, mild word aphasia, misplacement of everyday belongings such as eyeglasses and keys. Although the individual notices some decline in cognition, it is not apparent to those around them.
In this stage of Alzheimer’s disease progression, some people are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, although it is rare. At this stage, friends and family begin to notice a decline in memory function and begin to notice some personality changes. Individuals may experience difficulties with word aphasia, difficulty remembering names of new acquaintances, difficulty retaining written material, and lack of ability in planning or organization.
In this stage of Alzheimer’s disease progression, the disease becomes evident to everyone around the individual. People with the disease experience decreased connection with current events due to memory problems, inability to perform challenging mathematical tasks, reduced memory about personal information, increased anxiety in social situations, and decreased ability to perform tasks such as accounting and finance management.
In this stage of Alzheimer’s disease progression, individuals are unable to function without assistance. They forget important information such as address and phone number and become confused about their surroundings. They often have difficulty remembering the date, day of the week or month. Major lapses in memory become apparent. They tend to retain names and knowledge of people close to them, but they have difficulty remembering newly acquired information.
In this stage of Alzheimer’s disease progression, individuals need help with most daily functions, and they are often not functional in public situations. Personality changes become evident and they may develop unexpected and unexplained hostilities. They are able to distinguish between familiar and unfamiliar faces, but they frequently wander off and get lost if they are not being cared for. This stage is marked by urinary and fecal incontinence, and they are unable to perform such functions without the help of others. Many people refer to people in this stage as lost or confused most of the time, although they have periods of full consciousness, they are unable to recall it at a later time.
In this final stage of Alzheimer’s disease progression, many individuals enter a catatonic-like state, and they are suffering from the worst effects of Alzheimer’s disease. They lose their ability to speak and respond to others, though occasionally words may be uttered. They are unable to sit up, smile, swallow, hold their head up, and their reflexes become abnormal and muscles get rigid. Eventually, this stage leads to death, typically about eight years after they were diagnosed with the disease.
The stages aforementioned are generalized, and individuals will typically experience differences in Alzheimer’s disease progression. It is a devastating disease that is currently irreversible, though science may provide an explanation and cure in the future. The progression of Alzheimer’s disease is on a continuum and is present long before symptoms become noticeable. It is suggested that a person contact their physician if they experience any of the discussed symptoms, in order to determine the causes and possible treatments.
FINDING AN EFFECTIVE ALZHEIMER’S TREATMENT
Finding an effective Alzheimer’s treatment is intricate because there are a lot of misconceptions about this aspect. First of all, there is no actual “cure” for Alzheimer’s disease. It is the onset of a lifetime of brain activity that generates chemically and the deterioration of brain activity occurs as natural from this point. In other words, memory loss is usual as human beings age; Alzheimer’s disease, effectively, is a type of dementia that is partially related to memory loss and comes about as a natural process.
With this information, we now know that while there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, there certainly is a variety of facets to Alzheimer’s treatment. There are two approaches to treating this disorder: prescription and non-drug. It is a matter of how these approaches influence the functioning capability of the individual as to what type of treatment is prescribed. From there, the symptoms of this disease can be managed with greater ease.
Drug or pharmacological treatments are used to treat the cognitive areas of Alzheimer’s disease such as thinking changes, perception, and memory. Drug treatment does not prevent or end the disease, but it does provide a relief and a release to the power of the symptoms as they plot to overtake the brain and the body. Pharmacological treatments have also been known to assist in slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s symptoms and are, therefore, used as effective versions of an Alzheimer’s treatment.
Is there such as thing as an effective drug treatment for Alzheimer’s disease? To make that determination we must look at the disease itself. Basically, there are two types of drugs that are used in the treatment of Alzheimer’s: drugs that treat the cognitive symptoms, such as memory problems or other mental deficits; and drugs that treat the behavioral symptoms, which can be categorized as anti-agitation drugs.
Although the current drug treatments for Alzheimer’s is not altogether very effective, scientists continue to research new and more advanced treatments to help alleviate the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and to help prevent the onset of the disease. These include drugs that help halt or reverse the processes of Alzheimer’s disease. None of the current drugs are able to do this. Also, the current drugs have a sedating effect which scientists are trying to eliminate with the anti-agitation drugs. Some current drugs are NSAIDs, Naloxone, Rivastigmine, Selegiline, and Tacrine.
OTHER TYPES OF DRUG TREATMENT FOR ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE
Other drugs used in the treatment of Alzheimer’s are to treat any co-existing medical conditions that may affect the overall health of the Alzheimer’s patient. These can include drugs to treat depression, arthritis pain, urinary infections, or other physical problems. These drugs could be anti-depressants or antibiotics to treat the underlying health problems.
There are differing medical opinions on the administration of Vitamin E for patients undergoing Alzheimer’s disease treatment. However, if you feel this medication is worth a shot, seek the advice of a trained medical practitioner on this matter.
For patients undergoing Alzheimer’s disease treatment, a gradual loss of memory is expected because disease destroys acetylcholine cells – the cell responsible for carrying messages to the brain. Cholinesterase inhibitors work by blocking the enzyme that destroys the acetylcholine cells, allowing the patient to function better and delay the loss of memory.
Memantine is a drug approved by the FDA for use in patients undergoing Alzheimer’s disease treatment and suffering from moderate to severe symptoms. The use of this drug in patients with Alzheimer’s disease is favorable. By allowing the patients the increased ability to complete daily activities, they suffer from fewer mood swings and behavioral changes.
Be sure to carefully watch your loved one, as there are other health problems that can increase the symptoms of Alzheimer’s. So it is important to consult a physician, and always remember that the Alzheimer’s patient may not be able to effectively communicate their health problems. This makes regular visits to a physician an important part of the Alzheimer’s treatment process. The last thing anyone wants is for their loved one to suffer more than they have to.
Non-drug treatments are fundamental aspects of care and include plans and a strategy to help some of the more problematic issues that arise from Alzheimer’s disease. These non-drug treatments are used as an Alzheimer’s treatment because they help the social aspect and the mental state of the patient, introducing them to activities that will help them, essentially, “re-learn” the basics of motor skills and communication skills.
THE GOALS OF TREATMENT
As mentioned, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease. The goal of an Alzheimer’s treatment, therefore, is to ease the pain and the complications of the disease for the patient and to help improve their quality of life. The first aspect of treatment is to attempt to slow the decline of the faculties with any sort of drug or non-drug treatment schemes. Second, the behavioral symptoms of Alzheimer’s should be controlled and monitored so as to help with the process within the patient. This often includes the hiring of a social worker.
Finally, support and instruction are necessary for the family of the patient and for any caregivers involved. This is the key to helping the situation; ignorance about Alzheimer’s can often be more painful to the patient than the actual disease.
ALZHEIMER’S CARE: OPTIONS FOR YOUR LOVED ONE
Alzheimer’s disease is a brain disorder that causes memory loss, personality and behavior changes, and a decline in the ability to think clearly. For people with this disease, they must be taken care of with people trained in Alzheimer’s care. Caring for people with Alzheimer’s can be very difficult and requires a lot of patience since the changes in behavior are often completely out of character. The afflicted hardly seem like their former selves. For this reason, Alzheimer’s care must be done with a very forgiving and able hand.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
Unfortunately, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease so Alzheimer’s care will need to be performed for the rest of the person’s life. A good option for Alzheimer’s care is to take the person to a special home or center where the staff is trained to handle this specific disease. You will rest assured that your loved one will get the care and attention they need while they live out the rest of their days. These places can most often allow the person to live peacefully and restfully while they deal with Alzheimer’s disease.
The drawback to the homes and centers that specialize in Alzheimer’s care is that they can be very expensive. Some people can live ten, twenty, sometimes thirty years with Alzheimer’s disease, and an extended stay at one of these facilities can cost a lot of money. Insurance and certain assistance programs are available and can help with the costs, but, the truth is, most families don’t have the money it takes to allow their loved ones the privilege of being at one of these homes.
CARING FOR ALZHEIMER’S AT HOME
For these families, Alzheimer’s care must begin and end at home, but it is a very difficult task even for the most educated, patient, and able-bodied person. Alzheimer’s disease causes people to do things they normally wouldn’t do if they didn’t have the disease. Some people can become violent, hitting those that are trying to care for them, but you must remember that they don’t know that they are behaving that way. The people performing the Alzheimer’s care must keep their emotions to themselves and understand that the person is sick. Nothing the patient does or says should be taken personally.
Another major obstacle to performing Alzheimer’s care at home is that normal household items can become dangerous to those afflicted with the disease. The house should be configured and made safe for people with the disease in the same way you would safeguard against a small child living the house. People with Alzheimer’s can cut themselves with kitchen knives, burn themselves on the stove, or they could just wander outside.
Alzheimer’s care should be performed in a special facility by people who are specially trained. Caring for a loved one with this disease can be done at home, though the person doing the care should be prepared for a long, very challenging task. While it’s important to do what’s best for the patient, living with Alzheimer’s is very hard. We should try and make the rest of our loved ones’ lives as comfortable as possible.
CHOOSING AN ALZHEIMER’S CARE FACILITY
There are several types of Alzheimer’s care facilities that can help you to provide a healthy safe environment for your loved one. During the early stages of Alzheimer’s you will be caring for them in a home environment, but since this can mean exhaustive surveillance, you may need the services of an adult day care facility. These provide similar services to a long-term facility and can give you that ‘day off’ whenever it is needed.
As the disease progresses you will probably find it necessary to place your loved one in a long-term Alzheimer’s care facility, or otherwise known as a Special Care Unit (SCU). These are facilities with trained workers that specialize in the care of Alzheimer’s patients. The care facility is designed to provide a safe and comfortable environment along with activities designed to help the individual with Alzheimer’s.
A good Alzheimer’s care facility should have:
structured routine for Alzheimer’s residents
your loved one’s individual needs in mind
comfortable, familiar, and safe surroundings
activities that help an Alzheimer’s patient succeed at familiar tasks.
outdoor activities, such as secured walking paths and gardening boxes.
staff that can deal with difficult situations and behaviors.
methods to control wandering.
PAYING FOR AN ALZHEIMER’S CARE FACILITY
If your loved one is in need of an Alzheimer’s care facility, then the expense of the care facility can be a burden to your budget. There are methods that can assist you in paying for their care, such as Medicare, Medicaid, Madigap, and long-term care insurance.
Many insurance companies offer assistance to help cover the costs of an Alzheimer’s care facility in the form of life settlements, viatical settlements, and accelerated death benefits. Contact your insurance company and that of the individual who has Alzheimer’s to see what assistance their company can provide.
Mortgage companies offer an alternative to pay for an Alzheimer’s care facility with reverse mortgages. Contact your mortgage company to see what assistance they can provide. Also, the individual with Alzheimer’s may be able to receive veteran’s benefits or be eligible for the Programs of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE). Check to see if there is one located in your community.
Sometimes it is necessary to obtain help from several different sources to carry the burden of an Alzheimer’s care facility. Don’t be afraid to ask for assistance; no one can carry the burden of caring for a loved one who has Alzheimer’s by themselves.
WHEN TO CONSIDER A NURSING HOME?
One of the most difficult decisions that you will make when you have a loved one with Alzheimer’s is when it comes time to choose a nursing home. You will know it is time simply because you will no longer be able to provide a safe and healthy environment for your loved one.
There is some basic information that will help you choose a good Alzheimer’s nursing home for your family member or loved one.
There are two types of nursing care facilities that can care for an Alzheimer’s patient:
Skilled care: This type of Alzheimer’s nursing home only provides care that can be provided by a doctor, licensed nurse, physical or occupational therapist, respiratory therapist, or social worker. These types of nursing homes are also known as ‘sub-acute’ or ‘Medicare occupancy’. This type of nursing home is generally paid for by Medicare for approximately one hundred days, so is not suitable for the long-term.
Long-term care: This type of Alzheimer’s nursing home is for those individuals that require a 24-hour high level of care to ensure their safety. Medicare does generally not cover a long-term Alzheimer’s nursing home. You must have your own resources to fund this level of care, although there are some government programs that may help after you have exhausted your resources. If the nursing home does not accept government funding, you will have to move them to a nursing facility that does.
HOW TO FIND AN ALZHEIMER’S NURSING HOME
The government offices of Medicare and Medicaid have an extensive database that can help you to locate a good Alzheimer’s nursing home. You may want to consider a Special Care Unit (SCU) that is specially trained in the assistance of Alzheimer’s patients. Their database rates the Alzheimer’s nursing homes by the quality of care, quality of life, nutrition, and safety.
They also provide a checklist for people to use when visiting the different Alzheimer’s nursing homes. This form will help you keep track of the different nursing homes so that you can evaluate them for the best alternative. This checklist is available at http://www.alzinfo.org and the database of nursing homes can be found here.
Above all, do not feel guilty when you make the decision to use an Alzheimer’s nursing home. It is impossible for one person to provide the care needed for a person with advanced symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.
SEARCHING FOR AN ALZHEIMER’S CURE
Currently, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, despite the number of people afflicted with this disease. Several treatments have been helpful in slowing and alleviating some of the symptoms, particularly confusion and anxiety, but nothing has been shown to halt the progression of the illness itself. While treatment and care for Alzheimer’s have been progressing, scientists are still at a loss for where to look to find an Alzheimer’s cure.
Some research has been done into nutritional and complementary medicine as a possible step toward an Alzheimer’s cure. The antioxidant Vitamins C and E, as well as the Omega 3 fats present in fish oils, have been shown to improve cognitive functions and to slow the progression of the disease. In addition, research is being done regarding the usefulness of the herb gingko bilboa in treating, preventing, or curing Alzheimer’s disease.
Research is also being conducted towards creating an Alzheimer’s vaccine. Unlike other vaccines, which are given prior to the contraction of a disease, the Alzheimer’s vaccine would be given to people who have already been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Its function would be to train the body to attack the compounds that lead to brain problems. Recent trials of this vaccine were stopped, however, when several of the participants had severe side effects, including swelling of the brain.
Other promising areas of research towards an Alzheimer’s cure lies with the cholesterol-reducing drugs known as Statins. They have been shown in several observational studies to have positive effects on cognitive functioning, but this has not yet been proven through experimental research. Similarly, NSAIDs, such as acetaminophen and aspirin, have been shown to have some effect but more research is required.
One treatment that was thought to provide relief has, unfortunately, recently been refuted. The Women’s Health Initiative, one of the largest longitudinal health studies ever done, showed that Hormone Replacement Therapy does not have a positive effect on reducing the incidence or severity of Alzheimer’s.
EXPERIMENTAL ALZHEIMER’S RESEARCH
There is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s, but experimental Alzheimer’s research, with promising results, is being conducted. This research includes treatment through the caloric intake, vaccines and practical measures to aid those in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s.
DECREASE CALORIC INTAKE
In conducting Alzheimer’s research it is important to thoroughly investigate each possibility in combating Alzheimer’s disease. One such research option includes the effects that decreasing one’s food intake and subsequent caloric intake has upon Alzheimer’s disease.
A laboratory study conducted on mice indicated that a decrease in calories helped produce a specific protein that protected the brain from Alzheimer’s disease. The findings of this Alzheimer’s research were based on two groups of mice. The first group of mice ate what they wanted without restriction. The second group of mice ate 30 percent less food.
Six months later the brains of the mice were examined. The findings indicated that the mice, fed 30 percent less food, contained higher levels of a specific protein. This protein was found to work against the aging process. Furthermore, upon examination, these groups of mice were also found to have significantly lower amounts of plaque and even indicated a reversal of plaque buildup. The lower amounts of plaque were attributed to the lesser quantities of calories ingested by the mice and the subsequent production of the aging fighting protein.
Chemical studies are also an integral part of Alzheimer’s research. An experimental vaccine was administered more than 10 years ago. The purpose of this vaccine was to introduce a protein that would create a plaque buildup in the brain. The successful results anticipated were that the immune system would be trained to concentrate on this protein and expel the protein that caused the plaque build-up. Unfortunately, first experiments with a vaccine failed to result in an adverse affect that caused a swelling of the brains in laboratory mice.
However, a new vaccine has been developed for research purposes. The results have been encouraging with the immune system attacking the plaque-producing protein as anticipated. In addition, no adverse effects have been experienced by the mice.
Finally, Alzheimer’s research has been conducted through the use of tangible and stimulating material items both to the touch as well as visually. Alzheimer’s research indicates that soft foam balls, supple blankets, and teddy bears are an important part of the therapy for Alzheimer’s patients. It is an important part of Alzheimer’s research directed towards those individuals who are in the latter stages of Alzheimer’s. The results show that these items offer a diversion for patients who are anxious and distraught resulting in a calming affect for the patients.
Additionally, the use of aromatherapy has been determined to be of great help. The scent of lavender has been shown to be a great reliever of stress which is one of the major symptoms of Alzheimer’s patients.
PREVENTION IS THE BEST OPTION
While there is still no cure for Alzheimer’s, there are more and more positive research studies being done on Alzheimer’s prevention and risk reduction. Particularly for those with a family history or other risk factors for the disease, it is important to stay physically active, mentally alert, and socially involved. In addition, research is showing that the lifestyle factors commonly cited as preventing heart disease, such as reduction in fat intake and overall cholesterol, may also help to prevent Alzheimer’s. Until an Alzheimer’s cure is found, prevention and overall health maintenance remain the best measures to take for most people.
While very little is known about the causes and progression of Alzheimer’s disease, a number of factors have been shown through a variety of observational studies to aid in the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease. If you have a family history of Alzheimer’s, or simply if you are aging, you may consider including some of the following risk reducers in your lifestyle.
This is probably the best-known measure for the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease. A very famous health study conducted on nuns showed that those who engaged regularly in intellectual pursuits were less likely to contract Alzheimer’s, particularly early Alzheimer’s. Later studies have shown that while intellectual stimulation doesn’t necessarily aid in the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease, it does, in fact, delay the onset and the progression of symptoms.
Some simple intellectual pursuits you could engage in regularly are reading challenging books, doing crossword puzzles as well as playing mentally stimulating games like chess and Scrabble.
More recent studies have shown that, in addition to mental activity, physical activity assists in the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease. Some suggest that this is due to the increased blood flow, heart, and lung capacity. No matter the reason it works, it is worth giving this measure a try, since its health benefits extend far beyond the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease.
Activity does not need to be extremely strenuous or intensive; it is most important that it be regular and consistent. A daily walk, swim, or game of golf will help to ward off a great variety of health concerns, including Alzheimer’s.
One of the more interesting findings of late is the significance of social interaction in our physical and mental health. Several studies have shown that maintaining a social network aids in the prevention and treatment of many diseases common among older people, and now it is shown to help in the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease.
Since early Alzheimer’s can often include symptoms such as anxiety and depression, maintaining contact with friends can also help to relieve some of these symptoms and increase the quality of life.
High cholesterol levels are associated with arteriosclerotic vascular disease, which is subsequently related to heart disease and stroke, the main factor in neurological deterioration. Cholesterol can be controlled with medication, but people can do a great deal to naturally prevent cholesterol levels from becoming high.
A good diet free of animal fat, and high in fish oils (salmon, tuna, swordfish) can help lower cholesterol as well as improve cognitive function with Omega 3 fatty acids, a supplement directly related to improved mental cognition.
Being a female is the most prevalent risk factor associated with Alzheimer’s disease, menopause and loss of estrogen can lead to a higher likelihood of getting the disease. Women can take synthetic estrogen hormones once they begin menopause to help prevent Alzheimer’s disease. This should be done strictly under the supervision of a physician to ensure proper dosage and administration.
DIET & VITAMINS
Still being studied is the effect of diet and nutritional supplementation in the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease. Promising work has shown the helpfulness of antioxidants, such as vitamins C and E, and fish oil. While no research has yet confirmed this, anecdotal observation has shown a number of cases where the kind of diet recommended for the prevention of heart disease has also proven useful in the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease. Again, while nothing has been shown for sure, including some of these measures in your lifestyle may help you to avoid Alzheimer’s will improve your overall health and quality of life.
Vitamins are a recommended supplement after the age of 50 and are especially recommended for those who are at risk for and who want to prevent Alzheimer’s disease. Although a multivitamin is beneficial for general function, there are a few vitamins that should be used specifically.
Vitamin E and Vitamin C should be taken together once per day to prevent Alzheimer’s disease, and twice per day if memory function is declining. Vitamin B12 and folate are also considered brain protective agents and have the ability to keep homocysteine under control. These vitamins are typically taken orally, though they can be consumed via muscular injection if necessary.