10 Things you need to know about Alzheimer’s disease

Whilst I do not fear death, I do fear dementia. I have seen my grandmother go through the indignities of Alzheimer’s disease and now I have to watch on, while my mother goes down the same Path. The recent death of Sir Terry Pratchett brought Alzheimer’s back to the front pages, and that is a good thing, because Alzheimer’s, and other forms dementia, is something that people don’t like to even think about, let alone talk about. 

The biggest tragedy of Alzheimer’s, is that you lose someone, before they have even died, and you have to watch, as the person you once knew, slowly disappears in front of you. We see advertisements on the TV for charities raising money for charities that help with everything from cancer research to donkey sanctuaries, but you rarely, if ever, do you see adverts for a charity researching Alzheimer’s. 

Hopefully, the death of Sir Terry Pratchett will raise awareness of the need to do more about Alzheimer’s. His story struck more of a chord, because he was a famous author, but ordinary mums and dads deal with this awful disease too. When you are an ordinary person, with limited resources, Alzheimer’s has a major impact on the family too. It’s not just the emotional strain of watching a loved one suffer; it’s also the practicalities of looking after them. My mother is now house bound and that means, effectively, so is my father too. 

So, while you are setting up your direct debits to help out abused donkeys and stray dogs, please spare a thought for people like my mum and dad, and visit the website of the Alzheimer’s Society and give them a helping hand too. Thanks

Here are ten things about Alzheimer’s disease that you may not have known:

1. Alzheimer’s is far more than just losing your memory
Alzheimer’s means far more than just becoming a bit forgetful. At first, the forgetfulness can even be quite funny and, in my family, we used to joke about how my grandmother used to get her grandchildren’s names wrong. Ultimately, though, Alzheimer’s causes death, because the body actually forgets how to function.

2. There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease
There is no cure for dementia. There are drugs that can help to minimize the effects in the early stages of the disease and slow, to a degree, the progression of the symptoms. Most of the care provided to a sufferer of Alzheimer’s is based around the basic needs of the patients, as they become more and more unable to care for themselves.

3. Dementia is not a normal part of ageing
While it is true that many people do become a bit forgetful when they get older, that doesn’t necessarily mean that have developed dementia. With Alzheimer’s, the memory loss will be far more noticeable and it will get worse over time. It will also probably accompanied by mood swings and confusion.

4. Alzheimer’s is a disease of the brain
Alzheimer’s disease causes a change in the chemistry of the brain, which leads the brain cells dying off. As well as loss memory, Alzheimer’s causes difficulties with reasoning and basic communication.

5. It affects the family’s health too
The health of the carers of Alzheimer’s patients suffers too. They have higher levels of stress and that can impact on their heart and reduce the effectiveness of their immune system. 

6. Women and men have an equal chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease
The most important risk factor in the development of Alzheimer’s is age, not sex. It’s a myth that more women than men develop the disease. The only reason for this, is that women tend to live longer, therefore, there are more women with Alzheimer’s.

7. Early diagnosis is important
Most people don’t want to face the fact that a relative might have dementia, but an early diagnosis can help. It can mean that the right drugs can be administered sooner and it also means the patient can make decisions about their own future and a better healthcare plan can be put in place.

8. Alzheimer’s is usually complicated by other health issues
Most people who suffer from Alzheimer’s usually have other serious medical issues too. Alzheimer’s just makes the care of these other medical problems even more difficult. For example, the patient forgetting to take medication, or simply deciding that they don’t want to take it.

9. The key factors in who will develop Alzheimer’s are age and genetics
There is a greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s, if there is a history of the disease in your family. The other important factor is age. After the age of 65, the number of instances of Alzheimer’s doubles, every five years. Most people show the first symptoms of Alzheimer’s around the age of 60 years.

10. It is possible to live a good life with dementia
It’s not all bleak news; some people do manage to live reasonable lives with dementia. With the right support, early diagnosis and proper medication, some people are able to carry on working, driving and living an active life. 

Whatever stage of dementia a person is, it is important to continue treatment them as a person and not just a dementia sufferer. It can be difficult to do that, I know, but am Alzheimer’s patient is not stupid.