Alzheimer’s has become such a common word, a word that people do not like to hear; however no matter how much we dread that word it is ever present in the lives of so many families. It has built up families and it has torn down families. Unless you have experienced it, you have no idea what families endure.
Alzheimer’s is the number one condition of Dementia. When a person is living with Alzheimer’s their brain is failing; their brain is shrinking. To put this as a visual, imagine a bowl of grapes, round and full; now imagine a bowl of raisins, small and dried up. Get the picture? Cells wither then die and the person loses ability. It effects many the same way but the experience is individual. Alzherimer’s attacks the brain asymmetrically. Generally attacking the left side of the brain first, this is where language and vocabulary are stored. Therefore, the person living with Alzheimer’s at times can’t find the right word and cannot make needs known. The right side of the brain is where automatic speech, singing, forbidden words and swear words are stored. A good way to remember this is “language on the left, rhythm on the right” or “lose on the left, retains on the right”. This is the way Teepa Snow explains it and this has helped me to remember. This may explain why the person living with the disease can sing a certain song not missing a word, but cannot tell you what they ate for lunch or remember a longtime friend’s name. The families living with Alzherimer’s need to remember themselves that they have the good brain and the person living with Alzheimer’s are doing the best they can do. It would be a suggestion to remind yourself of this on a regular basis; (They are doing the best they can do). Learn to focus on what they still have rather than on what they have lost. In early stages of dementia people will miss one out of four words in conversations. This is very frustrating for the person living with this disease and for the caregiver.
As the disease progresses the person living with dementia my become agitated when surrounded by a larger group of people or a family gathering. The reason for this is comprehension and the inability to determine fore ground and back ground noise. The disease does not make them hard of hearing but hard of comprehension. It is difficult for the person to organize sound. When there is too much going on they will shut down.
With Alzheimer’s you may notice changes every 6-12 months, the person may become more impulsive and indecisive. Their visual field will get smaller and smaller and they will lose safety awareness with the loss of peripheral vision. Remember to focus on what they can do rather than on what they cannot do. Our brains are incredible, but please be reminded by the end of this disease only 1/3 of the brain tissue still functions.
Caregivers get prepared, build a support network for yourself. You may not need it now, but you will need it eventually. You may think you are the only one that can care for your loved one, but allow others to do so. Caregivers need to refresh and enjoy their loved one in a less stressful state of mind. The most powerful sensory input is what we see. People living with dementia pay more attention to what they see than what they hear. They can recognize if their caregiver is aggravated by seeing your face and hearing the tone of your voice. Learn to say, “I am sorry” or “I am so sorry you are going through this” or “I am sorry, I did not mean to make you feel that way”. As a caregiver, you want to learn as much as you can about this disease so you can better understand what your love one is going through. I have told my adult children if this disease knocks on my door, please learn as much as you can so you will be a better caregiver to me. Relationships are vital and to be cherished, see the person and enjoy what they have left.
Next week I will touch on Teepa Snow’s Positive Approach to Care (TM) and more Caregiver Tips. I have a workshop coming up soon. Keep in contact; I do not want you to miss it! You can contact me @910-592-4653 or e-mail email@example.com. Hope you all have a “Best Day Ever”.
Lesia Henderson is a Positive Approach to Care Independent Trainer and Sampson County Department of Aging Family Caregiver Support Specialist.