Q: DEAR Regina, I thought the late stages of Alzheimer is when one cannot talk, walk or eat by themselves. Can someone have these symptoms early in the disease?
A: Alzheimer’s is a steady progressive decline for most people living with it; however each person experiences the symptoms very differently. No two people with the disease have the exact same symptoms in a pattern. There is a general pattern and each person is unique in how they experience the symptoms. A person affected with Alzheimer’s may also be experiencing other causes of dementia such as vascular or lewy body dementia. The person may have another dementia that is primary to the Alzheimer’s. The stages are just a guide in Alzheimer’s specific and that too can vary per person. Eventually if a person lives long enough he or she will experience all of the symptoms as Alzheimer’s no matter which type of dementia they have.
There are actually patterns for different types of dementia and the first symptoms of those may not be short memory loss. It can be with their executive thinking skills or maybe they have more symptoms of personality changes. Many types of dementia are associated with abnormal protein fragments and the different fragments are the causes of some dementias and others could be caused by blockage of blood flow to the brain, or a brain injury. These all create different symptoms at different times of a person’s life.
If someone were to experience all of those symptoms at once then this is usually the later stages of dementia. If they are experiencing just one of them early on, it could be a different type of dementia that is focused on that area of cell death in the brain. A person can be in the late stage for 10 years.
The main thing to focus on is after you have noted what a person cannot do anymore to determine what can they still do. This will help them retain independence at some level and help you with caring for them.
Q: Dear Regina, I am heartbroken! Mummy does not remember who I am at times. I just can’t grasp it. I know it is not her fault but my mind is telling me how does someone forget their children? This is a horrible disease! I am struggling to make peace with this. She is My mummy, how can she forget me? How can I move passed this?
A: This is very painful and I am sorry you and your mom are going through this. Yes, it is the disease. No one can take away your pain and loss from this. Your pain is a reflection of your love for her. Feel your grief and don’t hide it. Your tears and pain will be what heals you as you go through this.
When you look at your mum and she doesn’t recognize you, know that what she does recognize is that you love her and she feels safe around you and that is what is going to help her get through the rest of her life in peace.
People with dementia forget names and faces, but they do not forget how you make them feel at the moment. Feel comfort in her feeling safe around you, not the details of knowing your name or recognizing your face. Think of her as disabled at this time meaning she became blind and there is loss of language so your communication with her is different. She can still recognize your love and presence but cannot verbally label it. But she responds to you favourably. Learn a new communication method with her, stay connected. You both will enjoy the journey of reconnecting. It will always be sad and a loss of what used to be. For now it is a new journey and you can enjoy it with her. I know you will not give up.
For those of you caring for someone that has lost the ability to verbally communicate, remember that people with dementia do not lose intelligence so do not assume they don’t understand when you talk in front of them. Include them in your conversations always even if they do not respond. It is called respect.
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