What is Alzheimer’s?
Dementia is the loss of intellectual functions such as remembering and reasoning. The loss is of a sufficient severity to interfere with a person’s daily functions. Fundamental to our care program at Gianna Homes is an understanding of the dementing disease afflicting each of our residents.
Dementia is not a disease itself, but rather it is a group of symptoms that may accompany certain diseases or physical conditions. The degree of damage and rate of progression varies, depending on both the cause of the symptoms and the particular individual affected. Some of the more familiar diseases that produce dementia include Alzheimer’s disease, multi-infarct dementia, Huntington’s disease and sometimes Parkinson’s disease. Dementia can also be attributed to stroke, old age (though not considered a normal part of aging), brain diseases, head injuries, excessive alcohol and drug use.
Dementia can be present in either acute or chronic forms. Acute dementias are metabolic or systematic in nature. They respond to treatment and the damage can often be reversed. Chronic dementias, on the other hand, rarely can be treated successfully, since the damage that creates the dementia is structural and irreversible and there is permanent damage to brain tissue.
Dr. Alois Alzheimer first defined Alzheimer’s in 1907. It is the most common of the dementing disorders, and is a progressive, degenerative disease that attacks brain cells and results in impaired memory, thinking, and behavior. The rate of progression, as with all dementias, varies from one person to another.
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Caregivers, both lay and professional, need to be aware that there is a direct correlation between the nature of the disease the person is experiencing and the behavior their loved one is exhibiting.
Therefore, professionals must first seek to learn about the essential person behind the disease. It is not possible to treat such people appropriately until we know the answers to the following basic questions:
- Who is the man or woman?
- What is important to him or her?
- Does he or she have different perceptions than me?
- How does he or she feel?
- What were their personality, habits, routines, hobbies, and passions?
- What is their family history?
Behavior, especially problem behavior, does not occur at random or in isolation. Behavior in cases of dementia follows a course that corresponds to the process of the disease.
The behavior of people with dementia is exacerbated by stressors such as terror, confusion, frustration, misconceptions, disorientation, and (justifiable) anger. The actions of the person afflicted are seldom premeditated, but instead are based on feelings rather than thoughts.
Alzheimer’s is a disease that progresses without visible “markers.” But we can observe the behaviors of someone afflicted to give us clues about that person’s functional abilities. We then build a plan of care that appropriately addresses the person’s needs.
Connecting our knowledge of the person and the disease he or she is experiencing to the behaviors he or she is exhibiting allows us to give appropriate care to that person. Using this link is the only true way to deliver dementia care. The hope and challenge that we face is to preserve and cherish the parts of the person that are not affected by the disease.
We are pleased to offer different resources that you may explore for more information on Alzheimer’s Disease and other related dementia. See our list of books with reviews and websites that have more information.