The more one learns about Alzheimer’s Dementia the more confusing it can be.
The first step may be to learn that Alzheimer’s is just one of many forms of Dementia which is why it is using the two word phrase can be helpful.
“Most people separate the diseases,” stated Teresa McDaniel who specialized in care of the elderly for the last 20 of her 35 year career as a nurse.
“Dementia is the broad medical term and Alzheimer’s is the worst form,” clarified McDaniel.
Pruitt Health Administrator Linda Reece agreed the more you learn the more confusing it gets, “because it’s progressive and there’s so many different types of dementia.”
Vascular Dementia, Frontotemporal Dementia and Lewy Body Dementia have unique attributes because they affect specific areas of the brain.
“With some types of dementia like the Lewy Body they’re much more aggressive. They’re much more agitated. They fall, “described Reece, “but Alzheimer’s just gradually eats away until there’s nothing left of that individual.”
“Alzheimer’s eats away at the brain a little bit every day,” continued Reece, “Our brain is what controls us. Up in our brain is stored all of our memories of our past life. With Alzheimer’s it just eats away until there’s only the shell of a person. It can be a slow agonizing death.”
Some of the agony comes in knowing there is something wrong but being unable to understand what it is.
Ruth Evans was a Hugh Chatham nurse as the hospital system was just preparing for long term care.
“I was nurse manager when we set that unit up until they moved it out into the new nursing home,” claimed Evans.
“At that time there were several freestanding long term care units but not that many in the hospital,” remembered Evans. “We wanted to be able to keep the patients, take care of them and not try to have to send them outside. When we open the new nursing home it helped because we still could keep them in the community.”
Evans recalled some of her patients as they experienced the process of Alzheimer’s.
“Once I had a gentleman that had no family to take care of him but he needed [help]. There was something wrong he just didn’t know what.”
Evans described the patient’s frustration at trying to talk but the words would come out garbled. “Once he passed the stage of knowing he was doing something wrong then he was happy. We became his family. In fact he even called us by some of his family‘s names.”
Once the disease progresses beyond where the person afflicted knows there is a problem it is often the families who suffer the most.
“It’s very hard for the families,” confirmed Reece, “I don’t care how much you know, that first time that you walk into the room and they don’t know you is like a knife goes through your heart but they can’t help it.”
That may be part of why it seems part of human nature to hide the loss of memory even though the brain is malfunctioning.
“I’ve had husbands come in and say I knew my wife was sick but when her parents came she hid it so they thought I was lying about her condition,” recalled Evans, “but as soon as they left the driveway she’d say ‘who was that,’ so she wasn’t able to recognize her family but she knew to hide her symptoms.”
This is the worst thing that can be done since treatments can prolong the stages allowing Alzheimer’s and other Dementia patients to enjoy their lives better longer.
Much of the Alzheimer’s Dementia experience is heartbreaking, but hidden within the seemingly endless sorrow are gems of hope.
“As the disease progresses they become more and more remembering 30 to 40 years ago but can’t remember what happened yesterday,” described Reece. “They still look for their children but their children being little.”
“We had one lady in particular who would roll up every evening at 3 o’clock because she was waiting for her children to get off the school bus,” revealed Reece. “We just learned that’s OK. That kept her calm. She would come up. The minute a child would come through the door she would roll herself back down the hall.”
“She was reliving another time, another place,” claimed Reece. “Her daughter said every single day her mother waited for her to get off the school bus. Even as the disease progressed she didn’t know her daughter because her daughter was little but she knew she had to get her off the school bus.”
To learn more about how to appreciate those endearing moments left in the lives of a beloved Alzheimer’s Dementia patient or to learn more about Alzheimer’s and different forms of Dementia go to the Alzheimer’s Association website at www.alz.org.
Debra Rovhelle and Mandy Matney, Geriatric Specialists at VAYA Health VAYA Health will present Effective Communication from 1:30-2:30 at the Elkin Public Library on Wednesday, Dec. 6. For more information or to RSVP for this free course call 336-835-5535.
Beanie Taylor can be reached at 336-258-4058 or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/TBeanieTaylor.