Wednesday, 10 July 2013
Caregiver Wednesdays- What is Alzheimer's Disease?
My mother was a nurse, and my father a pharmacist. I've worked in a long-term care setting for almost 14 years. I'm not a medical person, but I've been on the fringes of medical things most of my life, and I've learned to talk what I call medical-ese. The medical world has terms for everything, and unless you understand them, it's like a different language.
Emesis is throwing up.
You didn't cut your arm, you have a skin tear. If it's really bad, it's a wound.
And if you have cerumen, it's not a dread disease, it's ear wax. Who knew?
When it comes to understanding Alzheimer's disease, it's easy to get bogged down in medical terms. Let's look look at the definition and break it down.
"Alzheimer's dissease is a progressive neurological disease of the brain leading to irreversible loss of neaurons and the loss of intellectual abilities, including memory and resoning, which becomes severe enough to impede social or occupational functioning." 1
"A progressive neurological disease"--it's progressive in that it gets worse, and there is no cure. Everyone who has lived with Alzheimer's knows that this isn't a steady decline. There are good days where the person functions so well, you begin to wonder if the diagnosis was incorrect. On bad days, however, the fog descends and there are huge gaps in understanding of even the basics of life. When all the days are put together, however, over a period of time, you can see a decline. A neaurological disease is a disorder of the brain, spinal chord and nerves throughout the body. In Alzheimer's Disease, "plaques and tangles" develop in the brain during the course of the disease, causing brain cells to die.
People with Alzheimer's Disease also have lower levels of some brain chemicals that are important in the transmission of messages in the brain. These are called neurotransmitters.
"loss of intellectual abilities, including memory and reasoning." Alzheimer's is so much more than memory loss. It affects the ability of a person to reason and make decisions. Someone with Alzheimer's finds it increasingly difficult to come to conclusions based on arguments or a perceived outcome. An example of this maight be bathing. Some people become resistent to bathing, and no amount of reasoning (you'll feel better, you'll smell better, it's healthy to bathe etc.) will change their mind. They don't want to bathe, and reasoning means nothing to them.
"which becomes severe enough to impede social or occupational functioning." The bottom line is, Alzheimer's changes so much of the life of the person who has the disease. Social masks, which we all wear, often drop away, so that what we might think, the person with Alzheimer's might say. Quickly into the disease progress, the person is no longer able to drive, unable to continue working and may not be able to live alone.
Another medical term (which I've referred to before) is the ADL's. The activities of daily living. These are often referred to because they are the basics- eating, dressing, personal hygiene, handling bowel and bladder functions, mobility. As the disease progresses, the person with Alzheimer's Disease has more difficulties with these basic functions, and needs more support.
Do I paint a bleak picture? At first glance, it is, and a diagnosis of Alzheimer's Disease can be devastating. However, life isn' over, and there can be joy.
Next week- I have Alzheimer's Disease. What can I still do?