Disease is a progressive neurological disease that results in the irreversible
loss of nerve cells in the brain. The gradual loss of nerve cells eventually
leads to impairment in memory, judgment and decision-making, orientation
to physical surroundings, concentration and language. In addition, Alzheimer's
disease can affect your ability to perform day-to-day tasks and can lead
to changes in behavior and mood. These symptoms often interfere with social
and work activities.
disease affects people in different ways. Individuals will differ according
to the symptoms that they experience and the way the disease progresses.
However, the general course of the disease often is divided into stages
(early, middle and late) based upon memory functioning, overall thinking
ability, day-to-day abilities to care for yourself, and behavior. Long-term
memory (e.g., childhood and early adulthood) is usually the least affected.
There is no
cure for Alzheimer's disease, but there are important resources that can
be of help to you and your family. The first step towards self care is
to get a full diagnostic work-up to help rule out potentially reversible
causes of memory loss (e.g., depression, reaction to medication, etc.).
In addition, early diagnosis and intervention allows you to:
- Improve your
understanding, and the understanding of those around you, about the changes
that are taking place.
your knowledge and understanding of Alzheimer's disease and community resources.
- Become involved
in planning for the future (e.g., financial and health care planning).
your awareness of local and national research projects.
- Stay up-to-date
on progress being made with potential treatment options.
your awareness about safety issues and preventative health.
is a list of areas that may become increasingly difficult for you. The
list is intended to help you identify potential areas of difficulty in
order to plan for future changes, and to continue living your life to the
fullest. You may begin noticing changes in the following areas:
- Memory for
recent events. Examples: remembering appointments, details of a recent
conversation, and names.
out tasks with multiple steps. Examples: managing money and balancing your
checkbook, taking medications, shopping and cooking.
and problem solving. Example: Making quick decisions when there is an emergency,
such as responding to a flood in your home.
- Spatial ability
and orientation. Examples: following a map or following directions, judging
the distance of objects while driving, and feeling lost in familiar environments.
Examples: finding the right word, understanding what you have read, and
and/or mood. Examples: loss of interest in new projects, withdrawing in
social situations, feelings of anxiety and depression. Keep in mind that
symptoms of anxiety and depression are often quite treatable; speak with
your physician if these feelings arise.
your daily routine may be necessary in the early stages of Alzheimer's
disease. Although there may come a time when you rely more on others for
assistance in certain areas, you may want to stay actively involved in
making decisions that affect your life. The following areas are usually
addressed early on:
Some states, have laws requiring physicians to report individuals with
a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease to the Department of Motor Vehicles.
The intent is to insure that you and those around you are safe. If you
continue driving, ongoing evaluation of your driving abilities and ongoing
consultation with your physician are critical. It is also wise to pay attention
to the suggestions of those close to you; they may recognize changes in
your driving ability before they become apparent to you.
- In-home responsibilities:
Household management may become increasingly difficult for you. Because
you will experience changes in recent memory overtime, household tasks,
such as cooking, may become safety risks.You may, for example, forget to
turn off the stove. However, it may be possible to continue to participate
in household activities with a minimal amount of assistance from another
person. Some individuals choose to have family or friends assist in certain
areas, and some individuals choose to hire help from outside the home.You
may want to start discussing these options with those who are close to
Ways of Coping
- Educate yourself
about the disease and resources in the community.
- Discuss your
preferences with family members.
an open mind and positive attitude—focus on your present abilities and
avoid excessive worry about what might happen in the future. Know that
there are many ways in which you can live a meaningful and productive life.
to explore ways to fulfill your needs for intimacy and closeness. The desire
to have intimate and close relationships with others continues throughout
- Be patient
can contribute to good physical health and coordination, and can reduce
stress and frustration. See your physician for an exercise program that
will best fit your needs.
- Find productive
ways to release anger and frustration—talk with a close friend, a counselor
experienced in Alzheimer's disease, or join a support group especially
for people with Alzheimer's.
- Use visible
and/or accessible reminders—write notes to yourself, leave messages on
your answering machine, or set the alarm on a watch as a reminder about
an upcoming appointment.
- Engage yourself
in meaningful activities—documenting your life story by creating a scrap
book, a taped autobiography, or a journal can be a wonderful way to reflect
upon your life and share yourself with those close to you.
- Know that
you are not identified ONLY as a person with Alzheimer's disease—focus
on the many and varied personal attributes and inner qualities that
- you have
such as integrity, kindness, humor….
- Become an
advocate for yourself and other individuals with Alzheimer's disease. Write
letters and make phone calls to local and state representatives, assist
community agencies in training staff and professionals about Alzheimer's
disease, or become involved in a research program.
researchers can not definitively say what causes Alzheimer's disease, and
there is currently no cure. However, there has been considerable progress
made in the field of Alzheimer's disease research in recent years. Two
promising areas of research related to the treatment and cause of Alzheimer's
While more information is needed, there are some medications that seem
to delay the progression of the disease, or at least improve limited areas
of functioning in a small percentage of individuals. To date, two drugs,
Aricept and Cognex (tacrine) have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration
(FDA). There are also a number of medications that are now in the testing
phase and may be available in the near future. Agents such as Vitamin E
also are being studied.
Research: Discoveries in the field of genetics research can be helpful
in assisting with diagnosis and addressing the complex factors that make
individuals more susceptible to developing the disease.
- Support groups
and counseling services: Support groups can be primarily discussion-oriented
or can offer a variety of activities including outings and creative projects.
Caregiver support groups are also available in the community for those
individuals who are assisting you in some way.
programs: Volunteer workshops and community volunteer programs are now
available in some areas.
programs: Expressing yourself through work in clay, paint or photography,
for example, may be very beneficial to you and can provide you with various
opportunities for self-expression.
day programs: Adult day programs (both social and health oriented) provide
activities such as art therapy, exercise, community outings and assistance
with physical health needs.
Assistance: Take advantage of health care professionals who assist with
maintaining physical strength and coordination, such as occupational therapists
and physical therapists.
- Legal and
financial assistance: Forming a durable power of attorney for health care
and durable power of attorney for finances, for example, may be important
- Care management:
A care manager experienced in the field of Alzheimer's disease can provide
education, assistance with transitions, emotional support and guidance
in locating and coordinating community resources.
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