My experience of Alzheimers disease

This is an article about my experience of Alzheimers.

As we get older there are many disabling diseases which affect us, some affect our bodies and others our minds. Some can kill us instantly while others attack us slowly and progressively.

This is about one of the later which unfortunately is one of the diseases which is very rarely talked about in everyday society but one which affects many thousands of people worldwide every year.

This disease is Alzheimer’s.

Alzheimer’s is a brain degeneration disease which was discovered in 1906 by a German physician by the name of Dr. Alois Alzheimer.

Although Alzheimer’s is called a disease it is actually a dementia. A dementia is defined as a brain disorder that prevents the person with the disorder from carrying out everyday tasks.

Alzheimer’s starts with a mild memory loss and unfortunately ends in severe brain damage. Alzheimer’s suffers may experience symptoms ranging from asking the same questions again and again, through to becoming disorientated in places, time or around once familiar people (even their own face!), they can also get to a stage where they are neglecting their own health, hygiene, personal safety and nutrition. Different people will deteriorate at different rates.

Once diagnosed people whom have Alzheimer’s usually live for a further 8-10 years, depending on at what stage the disease is diagnosed at, however it is not unusual for a person with Alzheimer’s to live up to 20 years after diagnosis. This all depends on the speed of de-generation due to the disease as this is not constant for all sufferers.

There are two methods of describing the stages of Alzheimers, the seven stage and the three stage. I’m going to use the three stage to describe Alzheimer’s and my Alzheimer’s experiences…

Stage 1.
Suffers will have less energy and spontaneity, those around the sufferer may notice that minor mood swings and mood swings. Other symptoms exhibited are slight memory loss, confusion and poor judgment on new tasks, the sufferer preferring to partake in familiar practices to learning new.

Stage 2.
Sufferers may experience difficulty in completing more complex tasks, even those tasks which the sufferer may have completed thousands of times. Sufferer’s speech and understanding become slower and they may loose their train of thought mid sentence. Distance events will still be clear but recent events are difficult to remember or recall and some time making new memories become difficult. As Alzheimer’s progresses sufferers are unable to comprehend both where they are and the time of day. Sufferers may not recognize familiar faces and can become depressed. Those closest may have to repeat instructions as they are no longer recognized or are instantly forgotten.

Stage 3.
This is the worst part of the disease, where sufferers cannot recognize those around them. Bodily functions become severely impaired and they may not be able to perform the most simple functions such as chewing and even swallowing. As Alzheimer’s reaches its final progression sufferers become vulnerable to diseases such as pneumonia and other respiratory illnesses. Unfortunately the end is close as once Alzheimer’s progresses to this level death is not to far away.

So we know the stages of the disease but how does Alzheimer’s affect the brain?

How does Alzheimer’s affect the brain?
In as simple terms as possible, Alzheimer’s is caused by a loss of nerve cells within the brain, principally the cerebral cortex. Basically the brain is dying!

How do you get Alzheimer’s?
Alzheimer’s is in the main a hereditary disease and one on ten of people over the age of 65 will end up with Alzheimer’s in one form or another. The older you become the greater the risk of Alzheimer’s, this rises to almost half of over 85 year olds. However not everybody with a genetic propensity to Alzheimer’s will contract the disease.

Is there a cure?
No there isn’t. The idea that damaged brain cells can be repaired or replaced is completely impossible at this time, as medical science is unable to do this.

There are several drugs on the market which can temporarily relieve some of the symptoms of the disease. For mild to moderate there are three drugs sold under the names of Aricept, Exelon, and Reminyl and these are called cholinesterase inhibitors and are basically insecticides that inhibit an enzyme found in all animals which regulate nerve impulses.

For symptoms of moderate-severe to severe of altzheimers a drug called Exiba. However as this is a new drug there is little or no information on this drug available on the internet.

Perhaps you’re wondering why I have such a vested interest in Alzheimer’s? The answer to this is three fold and I’ll get to this point in a moment. First let me tell you how I know so much about Alzheimer’s.

One of my jobs was for a marketing company who specialized in medical and pharmaceutical products and companies.

One of my main duties at this company was to maintain the Alzheimer’s insights website. Alzheimer’s insights, was a medical journal dedicated purely to Alzheimer’s study, diagnosis and treatment. However it ceased publication in April 2002.

Over the years I have read a great deal of information about this disease and now as I get older this disease is beginning to affect the lives of a few of my friends and family I feel the need to put pen to paper, or at the least finger to keyboard and inform others of my knowledge of this disease and my experiences of Alzheimer’s.

William. (Stage 1)
Bill is one of my best friends and he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in March of 2003.

Although he has been diagnosed he is still a very active 71 year old, both mentally and physically. However some days Alzheimer’s takes its toll on this superbly witty and entertaining man, and although he is fully aware of what’s going on around him most of the time he occasionally lapses into what he calls a senior moment, where he cant remember what he’s doing or cant remember what we where talking about. Sometimes he asks the same question time after time after time….

The worst things for Bill is that once he was diagnosed he lost his driving license and sometimes he becomes depressed especially as he’s been very mentally active throughout his life. I’ve watched him paint, he likes painting oil paintings and is really very good, but sometimes he forgets what the subject he’s painting is. This is compounded by having more than one painting going at a time.
Lillian (Stage 2)
I must admit that I absolutely love this old lady, I have know her for many a year and watching her deteriorate over the past 4 years with Alzheimer’s. Lillian is now 81 and up until a few years ago she was an extremely active old lady, touring all over the world, even taking a walking holiday in the Rockie mountains in 1998, a walking holiday in the Andies in 1997 and a driving holiday in the Australia outback in 1995.

For an old lady she was extremely active, she even walked the length of the pennies at 69 years of age!

However, things are now completely different and she can’t do anything or go anywhere on her own. Her husband, whom is 10 years younger than her, is now her constant guardian. Most of the time he only has to help her remember things, or he endlessly repeats answers to questions she asks again and again. But some times she will forget where she is or who others around her are, even if they are people she has known for many years.

Her long term memory is still excellent and she will tell you about her life during and after the war and what she did during the war, she cant remember that she has already told you the same stories hundreds of times but she can remember things she has done long ago. It’s her short term memory which has been destroyed by Alzheimer’s. She doesn’t even remember going to Canada only 5 years ago. All this sometimes can become very confusing for her because she knows she has been to these places but she can’t remember traveling to them or visiting them. An example is that she had been to Japan years ago, and my wife asked her “Where did you visit in Japan?” Lillian couldn’t remember, she knew she’d been to Japan but didn’t know where in Japan. Even when her husband reminded her, she questioned him “Are you sure we went there? I don’t remember that!”

To me this is quite distressing but to Lillian she hasn’t a care in the world. She has progressively gotten worse over the past year and on our last visit to her house in November, she forgot who we where. She knew, she knew us but couldn’t remember our names or where she knew us from, and she then proceeded to show us round the house, 3 times. Once when we arrived, then again when we came inside from the back garden and again as we went to leave.

My Grandad (Stage 3)
When my grandad died he was not a well man. As well as having Stage 3 Alzheimer’s he also had Parkinson’s disease at quite an advanced stage and the poor man just used to shake all the time.

My granddads Alzheimer’s was pretty progressed and he had trouble doing anything. Even walking and talking couldn’t be done without assistance from others and this was compounded by having Parkinson’s as well. He couldn’t remember who we where, even my mum and aunties and uncles. His own children!

He also had real problems sleeping and it could be said that he was part narcoleptic and sometimes would fall asleep without any notice, even while being fed.

When my granddad died he was unable to communicate with anyone, however it wasn’t the Alzheimers disease which he died from.

Caring
Although I have only limited knowledge of caring for somebody with Alzheimer’s, especially those with a progressed version of the disease, I must say that having seen my Grandmother, my mother and my auntie struggle to look after my granddad as a child I would never assume this is an easy task. I know that it took three people to look after my granddad and I have every sympathy for those caring for Alzheimer’s sufferers. Not just the physical effort but the mental effort which is required to look after a loved one who has for all intense purposes has regressed mentally.

When we have Lillian and her husband to visit, I am always impressed with the restraint he shows when she has a more severe episode and constantly asks the same question over and over and over and over again.

For further information on Alzheimer’s, there are a number of alzheimers resources on the internet, some of which I have included below.

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