She insisted she needed to dye eggs. Her adult daughter tried, to no avail, to convince her that it was in fact July. As her mother continued to persist, day after day, the daughter gave in. They colored eggs together as the mother reminisced about Easter’s past. The mother had Alzheimer’s disease.
While this story has a somewhat happy ending of sharing time and memories, Alzheimer’s, a progressive deterioration of the brain, is a difficult disease.
Amy French of the Alzheimer’s Association Southeast Tennessee office Mid-South Chapter said people with Alzheimer’s often live in their own world, thinking it is a different year or day. French said it is OK to live in their world to interact with them because they are not going to be convinced otherwise.
French shared this story during a presentation Thursday at Garden Plaza.
Short-term memory is the first thing to be affected by the disease. French said the disease not only affects memory, but it also the brain’s ability to process information and form sentences.
Many times people with Alzheimer’s, as the disease progresses, will forget how to do everyday tasks, such as getting dressed. French said many times people with Alzheimer’s will act like they understand what a caregiver wants them to do, but then will not do it.
“Patience and repetition are very important when dealing with someone with Alzheimer’s disease,” French said.
French explained that this is because “social graces,” such as not wanting to disappoint someone, are the last thing to be affected by the disease.
As the brain changes in Alzheimer’s, those with the disease become more irritable and lose the ability to adequately control emotion. While the disease does not affect hearing, it does hinder the brain’s ability to process sound.
“It’s not about a person choosing or emotionally not being with it or behaviorally not being with it, it’s about changes that happen to the brain. Brain cells actually die, and cannot be replaced,” French said.
Alzheimer’s disease is only one type of dementia. Dementia is a “decline in cognitive functioning” that affects a person’s daily routine, French said.
Dementia negatively impacts memory, language, thought, navigation, behavior and personality/mood.
“Alzheimer’s does not come on suddenly,” French said
Sudden dementia may be one of the many kinds of reversible dementia. This temporary dementia can be caused by numerous factors, some of which include a side effect to medication, depression, nutrition deficiency, emotional or other intense stress or an infection. French said when a sudden unexplainable decrease in cognitive ability occurs, it should be looked into by a physician.
“Urinary tract infections, especially in the elderly population, often go without any signs and symptoms other than dementia,” French said.
As people age, some difficulty remembering things, or mild cognitive impairment, is normal.
“Our bodies don’t respond at 50 and 60 and 70 like they did at 20 and 30. As our bodies age we slow down. As our brains age ... then our ability to process information, our ability to remember things, does decline. It declines enough to be annoying, but generally it doesn’t decline enough to interfere with day-to-day life,” French said.
Alzheimer’s is not connected to age and has affected people in their 40s, according to French.
While a cure for this disease has not yet been discovered, medication has been developed to slow the destruction of brain cells. French said one of the main goals of the Alzheimer’s association is to find a cure. Medications do not treat the emotional and psychiatric symptoms of Alzheimer’s, according to French. French said many primary care physicians are not experts on treating these aspects of Alzheimer’s. She said a neurologist or a geriatrician would be more of an expert.
There are several things that make a person at a higher risk for Alzheimer’s, such as family history or head injuries. French said there are other risk factors that can be mitigated through eating healthy and exercising both body and brain.
Life Care Center of Cleveland and Garden Plaza are raising money for the Alzheimer’s Association with a nacho bar on Aug. 10. The event will run from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Garden Plaza Bistro. The cost is $5 per person.
Alzheimer’s Association: www.alz.org