Typically, when we think of the early signs of Alzheimer’s disease we think of memory problems. Words go missing, names escape your grasp and tasks to be done are forgotten. Now, researchers at Washington University in St. Louis have shown that making mental maps of where we have been and where we are going is a process the brain may lose before memory problems begin to show. People with these early symptoms can no longer navigate even a familiar area as they once did.
I love stories. When I was a teenager, I’d encourage my grandparents to relate stories of their young years struggling to survive on the wind-swept prairie. When I grew older, I was fascinated by the stories my parents and in-laws told of their early years of growing up during the Great Depression. Little did I know at the time that peoples’ stories would become the springboard for my life’s work. Now there is mounting evidence that encouraging our elders to reminisce about their past is therapeutic as well as enjoyable.
Dear Carol: My husband has been a recovering alcoholic for years, but after we both retired he started having a drink here and there. It didn’t seem like a problem until he started to show symptoms of dementia. He was eventually diagnosed with mixed Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia. I’m not sure whether he forgets how much he’s had to drink or his alcoholism has caught up with him. He often becomes angry and on a couple of occasions he’s become threatening. He also falls after he’s been drinking, which is scary. I can’t get him to stop drinking or to return to his recovery meetings. I think I could care for him with his dementia at home for some time if he didn’t drink, but I’ve become afraid of him. His doctor tells him not to drink, but that does no good. He drives to the store to get alcohol and once, when the car was being fixed, he took a cab. I feel isolated, frightened and lonely. How do I handle this? DSR
Sundowning, sometimes called Sundown Syndrome, is the label given to late day anxiety, irritability, disorientation and general agitation in people with Alzheimer’s. Sundowning, also called sundowners, frustrates home caregivers and professional care staff alike, as they often feel completely unable to comfort the person affected.
Our parents changed our diapers when we were babies. As we grew into toddlers we were “potty trained,” and from that time on we were expected to control our bodily functions. Is it any wonder that elders who have been rendered incontinent by a medical problem or disease often deny their incontinence and refuse, even in the face of evidence, to wear protection? They equate incontinence protection with diapers and diapers with babies. They feel humiliated. Wouldn’t they feel more humiliated smelling of urine or feces, you ask? Logically, yes.
When our elders are suffering from physical pain, mental stress, loneliness or the effects of ageism in our society, the result can be depression. Research done at Sweden’s Umeå University and reported on by Medical News Today finds that when group activities were introduced into the elders’ environments, depressive symptoms were often improved and the need for medication reduced or eliminated.
Not surprisingly, the researchers say that caring for an ailing spouse is extremely difficult emotionally and physically for either gender. However, the researchers discovered that three years after the death of their spouse, surviving wives reportedly fared worse than surviving husbands...Another important issue that researchers face is that men and women tend to report caregiving differently.
Dear Carol: My mother has had diabetes for years and now her health has been complicated by dementia. I cared for her in my home for three years but apparently couldn’t do anything right. That wasn’t new, since her personality is such that even when she was fairly healthy, nothing anyone did was ever right. She’s now in a nursing home. The staff is excellent and I visit her nearly every day but she’s still complaining. This makes me feel even guiltier than I felt when she was at home complaining. It’s as if moving her to the nursing home makes me a bad person. I know that I did what had to be done, but going forward is hard. How do I start? ELB
The first elder for whom I became a primary caregiver was my neighbor, Joe. He was born of Norwegian immigrant parents who spoke Norwegian at home. As a result, Joe needed to repeat first grade because he spent his first year in school learning English. While Joe went on to become a well educated engineer who spoke English with no Norwegian accent, in his later years he did occasionally talk about the challenges he faced as a Norwegian speaking child. Joe’s experience of growing up in a home where a language other than English was hardly unusual since, historically, the U.S. has been populated by immigrants. What’s surprising to me is that when Joe was young, educators thought that he and others like him would be at an educational disadvantage.
When you are stuck behind an older woman at the supermarket, do you get impatient at her slow pace? Maybe she simply has all the time in the world and no longer must rush through each day as though she needs to put out a fire. Or maybe she has arthritis or another physical illness that is slowing her down. There’s nothing wrong with being more cautious about movements and slowing a bit as we age. However, for some people, a slow gait, particularly an uneven gait, could be a sign of brain disease such as Alzheimer’s.