In an aging society, many people have relatives who are suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia. This can cause ripples that affect the whole family, as beloved relatives who have been part of our lives are affected by this condition.
The Three Stages of Dementia
It is important to bear in mind that this description is a generalisation and that each patient is unique in their range of symptoms. It is believed that the better one’s health and mental capacity prior to the onset of dementia, the less severe the symptoms and slower the development of the disease.
In the first stage there may be few symptoms that dementia is developing. There may be some changes in behavior and memory lapses. There may be small changes in personality, e.g. slight paranoia.
In the second stage it is becoming more apparent that something is amiss. There may be loss of memory over names of family members, problems in recognition of close family members, loss of historical context and some physical problems such as reduced ability to walk and self care.
In the third stage of the disease the sufferer may lose much of his or her memory, failing to recognise even close family members. The body can be physically affected so that s/he loses the ability walk and to care for basic needs.
Helpful Hints on Delaying Stage 3 Onset
The first stage of dementia is the least obvious because the symptoms are quite innocuous. However by the second stage it is more obvious and this is normally when people are diagnosed. Putting off the later stages of dementia can be helped and according to Contented Dementia by James Oliver, there are things that can be done to help the Stage 2 sufferer enjoy a better quality of life.
Dementia attacks neural pathways in the brain affecting movement. However by taking regular walking exercises new neural pathways can be opened in the brain to improve movement and balance. Physiotherapists are trained to supply dementia sufferers with suitable exercises.
Reduce Stress Levels
Stress is toxic to Alzheimer’s sufferers. The gaps in their memory bank make life tougher for them and so extra stress should be avoided. It is important to reassure them and not to put them in situations where they are struggling to cope. They are often happier in their own home environment as this is non threatening.
Tell Them What They Want to Hear
Many Alzheimer’s sufferers will reject unhappy memories. One example of this is a lady who forgot that her husband and other close family members had died. As a result she constantly asked where her husband had gone.
James Oliver suggests that it is better to protect them from hurtful truths since each time they learn about the death of a loved one they will experience bereavement over and over again. Instead he recommends making up a plausible story to explain why the loved one is absent. Although it is hard to tell lies to a loved one, in this case it has been proven that this can alleviate much suffering.
Because of the gaps in the memory bank, Alzheimer’s victims will simply try to make up the past by accessing the facts that remain. It can sound like they are telling huge lies and the temptation for relatives is to try to correct them. In fact this simply creates more stress for them. It is far better to go along with their version of the past.
There are some very useful organisations that can give advice, support and respite to the family of Alzheimer’s patients. In the UK the Alzheimer’s Society holds regular local meetings which are well worth attending by family members, but aren’t really suitable for the sufferers if this is stressful for them. In the States the Alzheimer’s Association performs a similar role.