Dealing with Alzheimer’s – Understanding this Mental Illness

Dealing with Alzheimer’s is a monumental and overwhelming task. It isn’t only challenging for the patient, but also for those caring for family members who are diagnosed with it.

We found an interesting question that popped up on the Mayo Clinic’s web site today: if a person with a high IQ is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, does it mean that a high IQ will slow down the progression of the disease?

Our reflex answer was yes because we read somewhere that a person who attained a high level of education would be less likely to be struck with Alzheimer’s. Dr. Glenn Smith, an Alzheimer’s specialist at the Mayo had this to say: “Not everyone with Alzheimer’s disease will experience the same symptoms or progress at the same rate…There’s no evidence that high IQ or advanced education increases life span or survival rates in people with Alzheimer’s disease.”

Too bad, because we’d slave it out in the classroom and earn a doctorate if we could ward off the disease by a few more years!

It is probable that people worthy of Mensa accreditation possessing advanced degrees are better equipped to deal with dementia than people with less education. Some researchers actually argue that a higher educational attainment indicates that a person has acquired more experience with memory and thinking tests. Their brains have been “exercised” and have been subject to mental fitness tests. Advanced education though could have a downside. Those with higher degrees may be more successful at camouflaging their disease so that by the time they are diagnosed their mental decline could go at a much faster rate.

Dealing with Alzheimer’s – Understanding the Disease is Key

Anyone who has to deal with a family member who is suddenly diagnosed with Alzheimer’s will be at a loss as to the nature of the disease and what changes to expect in the person’s mental processes and behavior. Like cancer, a cure has yet to be found, but researchers have made some progress. There are medications that are prescribed to enable a person to still function at the onset of the disease.

Alzheimer’s is the main culprit in dementia, and it translates into a loss of intellectual and social activities. This loss is sufficiently severe so that a person is incapable of functioning and performing his routine activities. People suffer from dementia because once healthy brain tissue begins to degenerate, triggering memory loss and thinking abilities.

The average age of individuals who are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s is 65 and older. Four million Americans have Alzheimer’s today but this number can triple by 2050 as the population ages.

Treatments are available for Alzheimer’s so that people can lead productive lives during the early stages of the disease. The medical establishment has also traced some genes that have a direct link to the disease, so that researchers can develop medicines that will stall or block the progression of this very mysterious disorder.

People who are dealing with Alzheimer’s patients must remember that the disease goes beyond typical forgetfulness and the inability to recall past events. Normal healthy people tend to forget where they left their purse or forget occasionally to pick up a kid from daycare, but when one begins to forget names of familiar people and places consistently, then that’s when we should suspect that something is very wrong. Alzheimer’s may manifest itself by short term loss of memory and confusion, but it progressively graduates into irreversible impaired thinking, making the victim incapable of reasoning, learning, imagining and remembering.

Dealing with Alzheimer’s: Recognizing the Symptoms

It begins with simple forgetfulness of people, things and places that are most familiar to the patient. This forgetfulness persists and becomes more serious. The Alzheimer’s patient falls into the habit of repeating things and forgetting appointments and conversations.

“I was beginning to worry when my mother didn’t show up on time for dinner. I had made her favorite dish and I was eager to know what she thought about it. I was worried when she didn’t show up at 7:00 pm because she’s such a stickler for punctuality. My mom and I usually have dinner once a week – she lives about 5 minutes by car from my place. Finally, at 11:00 pm I managed to reach her and was at my wits end by this time. “Why didn’t you call me to cancel dinner? I waited all night for you.” All she said was she couldn’t remember where I lived. She got lost, she said.”

“Why didn’t you call me on your cell?”

“What cell?”

Another symptom is a person’s difficulty balancing his or her checkbook and then eventually not recognizing the numbers and what they stand for. They progressively become incapable of performing tasks that require a specific sequence of acts – like baking a cake or watering the plants. Loss of judgment is evident. An example would be not locking the doors at night before going to bed, or showing someone one’s bank card and wallet in public.

Alzheimer’s patients also have difficulty finding the right word or expressing themselves during a conversation. They appear confused and frustrated at not being able to communicate what they need and want. One of the things that you’ll notice is that Alzheimer’s patients also display personality changes and sudden mood swings. They demonstrate a strong distrust of others – both strangers and family members. They are stubborn and withdraw socially. Add restlessness and depression to the repertoire of common symptoms. They also become aggressive and behave in strange ways.

“We were at the casino one afternoon enjoying the slot machines when we suddenly saw this man jogging past us. We realized it was your Uncle Len. He was jogging around in circles, attracting everyone’s attention. It took two of us to make him stop and calm him down…Later in the car on the way home, he took out his dentures and was threatening to toss them out of the window. We had to stop the car and seat him in between two other passengers.”

Alzheimer’s and its progression vary from person to person. The average survival rate is eight years; that is, from the initial diagnosis to death. Survival declines three years after the diagnosis, but many people can live 10 years and longer with the disease. Recall the case of American ex-president Ronald Reagan.

Dealing with Alzheimer’s – Tips for Caregivers

Did you know that meal times are one of the most challenging for dealing with an Alzheimer’s patient? Patients have little interest in eating properly and in some cases refuse to eat at all. It is crucial that caregivers pay attention to a patient’s nutrition, not because a good diet will delay progression, but the sick individual will need sufficient amounts of nutrients especially from fruits and vegetables. Proper nutrition means less falling and stumbling and a stronger immune system.

When an Alzheimer’s patient refuses to eat, check the following:

  • Ill-fitting dentures – dentures may have come loose and need adjusting. When the teeth and wires are brushing against the tongue, patients will not want to eat.
  • Disease – diabetes, heart problems and stomach disorders could significantly decrease appetite so make sure these diseases are controlled, especially in Alzheimer’s patients.
  • Medication – certain types of medications contribute to loss of appetite. If this is the case, speak to your physician who will be able to replace the medication with a similar one that will not disrupt the patient’s appetite.

During meal times, turn off phones, television sets and anything that produces noise because noise tends to agitate people suffering from Alzheimer’s. As the disease progresses, patients may eat anything they see on the table even if it isn’t food, or they eat someone else’s food or eat directly from serving dishes. Caregivers usually clear the table of other objects that can distract the patient, de-focusing from the meal.

You may be surprised to learn that in some cases, dinnerware patterns could also distract patients. Choose solid colors. The Mayo Clinic said, “…studies have shown that people with Alzheimer’s eat as much as 25 percent more when their food is served on brightly colored plates. Bright red and bright blue plates work much better than those in pastel colors. Researchers believe it’s easier to distinguish between the plate and the food when there’s more visual contrast.”

It is recommended that you give your loved one plenty of time to finish his/her meal. Encourage them to chew and swallow properly. Try not to give them nuts, popcorn and carrots which can get trapped in their throat. And as an extra precaution, learn how to perform the Heimlich maneuver.

Think we’re kidding? Check the Mayo Clinic. You can visit their web site at…oh geez, we can’t remember…(



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