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I once worked at a nursing home where the husband of one of the residents came in every night to feed her dinner.  She had Alzheimer's and her behavior was sometimes difficult to control.  One night she knocked her tray off the table and screamed for a solid five minutes. Needless to say, you could clearly see the expression of helplessness on the husband's face.  Beside his wife sat another woman, also with Alzheimer's, who throughout the day constantly pushed herself in her wheelchair up and down the halls laughing at everything.  She pointed at the mess and giggled.  As I helped clean the floor the husband pointed to the laughing lady and said in a serious tone of voice, "Why couldn't my wife get that kind of Alzheimer's?"

What can you say about Alzheimer's?  It can be a heart wrenching disease.  It is the most common cause of dementia (confusion, memory loss, personality changes, disorientation)  and no one is exactly sure what causes the disease which affects 4 million people in this country.  The course of the disease takes about ten years (this time frame varies) before people become susceptible to malnutrition, infection, and illness.  It's not just the elderly who get it, younger people can get it too. 
 Presently there is no cure or way to prevent it although the first wave of clinical trials aimed at preventing and halting the progression of the disease are getting underway.  The danger of wandering Alzheimer's patients are increasing dramatically with over thirty thousand cases reported to police annually.  With the number of people with Alzheimer's Disease expected to increase from the current 4 million to almost 15 million by 2040, this wandering behavior is being studied extensively. Researchers have discovered that if an Alzheimer's patient is found within 24 hours, they usually return home safe. After that, their chances of survival fall to 46 percent.  Death can occur as they are sometimes found frozen at a fence line, drowned in a shallow pool of water, or tangled deep in a briar patch (note: there is some limited data which suggests that Alzheimer's wanderers tend to move in a Southern direction).  If you believe your loved one is at risk for wandering, there are some steps you can take. Disguise doors with curtains, place "Stop" signs on doors,  or remove batteries from cars.  There are even some county and local police departments now supplying patients with tiny transmitters.

If you are taking care of  a loved one with Alzheimer's, use every resource available.  It is an extremely difficult job.  Expect to get angry sometimes.   Forgive yourself.  Almost every community has a support group.  Call them. Even when placed in a nursing home, the caregiver is faced with additional guilt, sorrow, and concern. Two important things - at some point you will have to take away the car keys of someone in the early stages. Do it before there is a bigger problem. And never allow your loved one to smoke alone.

The above was sent to me from a nurse named Helen...


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