Who’s Alzheimer’s? Who’s Alzheimer’s? Who’s Alzheimer’s?

Published February 7, 2015 in Alzheimer's  By  Ohad J. Pearl, MPH
Alzheimers & Family Conflict

By the time you’ve read this paragraph, a late-stage Alzheimer’s patient may have forgotten it. With sadly no cure in sight, what we know about Alzheimer’s are the symptoms its patients suffer from– for those dealing with it, that’s where it begins – and unfortunately at this very moment – that’s where it ends.

Perhaps, facing this hurdle will require us to get a little more intimate with the disease. After all, it affects all of us. According to the shattering statistics reported by the Alzheimer’s Association, 5 million Americans live with the disease, and 1 out of 3 seniors die from the disease or another form of dementia. Furthermore, it is the most expensive condition in the nation.

These numbers actually mean something more significant as they begin to translate into our parents, grandparents, friends and neighbors who are suffering or have suffered from it. The dramatic changes not only affect that person but also forever alter their family.

For now, learning to live with the condition, or guide our family members to live with it, is the only achievable goal. Whether we want to face it or not, this condition is a part of many of our lives. Although working towards a cure would be our ultimate triumph, medically we find ourselves being able to offer not much more today than in 1901 when Alzheimer’s was first observed.

So… who’s Alzheimer?

The account begins with a German-trained physician named Alois Alzheimer who had a passion for psychiatry and neuropathology. Exploring how to combine his research and clinical practice, Alzheimer established his own brain research laboratory at the Munich medical school where he published many papers on conditions and diseases of the brain. This milestone in Alzheimer’s career led to a 1906 lecture, which made him famous in the science and research community and, ultimately, his name has been linked to millions of people evermore.

Alzheimer speaks of his most famous patient, August D., who suffered from symptoms of memory loss, disorientation, hallucinations leading up to and her eventual death at 55.  Post-mortem, Alzheimer studied August’s brain and identified an “unusual disease of the cerebral cortex” where never previously described before, nerve “tangles” were observed. His colleague Emil Kraepelin, the founder of modern scientific psychiatry, named those who exhibit these characteristic changes after Alzheimer.

Over 100 years after these findings by Alois Alzheimer, patients suffering from this disease and their families are saddened to hear that there is not much to offer in the ways of cure, or even treatment. That being said, the symptoms are treatable at least through one effective way: caregiving.

Seniors today have more options with senior home care services for Alzheimer’s and dementia than ever before. With nursing homes and assisted living facilities specialized to take on these particular patients, gaining acceptance of the disease as a nation, as a family and as an individual will play a role in how we plan and bring accomplishment to the remaining chapter of our lives; and help not define it as a dreary end.

While we focus on acceptance of Alzheimer’s into our every day lives, there is no denying the economic forecast for these institutions within the senior home care industry. Remember, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s or dementia; and facilities that specialize in this degenerative disease do not or cannot offer a cure.

Consider a similarly effective option of individual, healthcare-credentialed caregivers such as Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs) or Home Health Aides (HHAs) taking care of patients in their own homes. This promising preference allows seniors and their families to get the help they need to preserve their lives while remaining and aging comfortably at home. Through experienced and trained caregivers, patients have their symptoms managed and prioritized, are provided personal attention and are exposed to 2-3 times less the cost of nursing homes or assisted living facilities.

The first step in accepting Alzheimer’s in our day-to-day is recognizing that good caregiving is the best treatment we can offer; that symptom management, keeping safe in one’s daily routine, and avoiding complications of dementia are the best we can offer at this time. The second step is determining where that caregiving will occur: specialty institutions or home. If you ask most seniors- they choose home. As John Ed Pearce said, “Home is a place you grow up wanting to leave, and grow old wanting to get back to.”