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A Guide to Understanding Alzheimer's

Alzheimer's disease is an incurable form of dementia that progressively becomes worse and eventually leads to death. The disease typically affects seniors over the age of 65, but may strike those younger; this is referred to as early-onset Alzheimer's.  

Approximately 35.6 million Americans have been diagnosed with Alzheimer's and knowing the early signs and symptoms, following the latest medical breakthroughs and advancements in medicine, including clinical trials, and understanding the role of nurses and health care practitioners are all part of understanding this disease and its implications.

Alzheimer's Signs and Symptoms

Alzheimer's affects memory by attacking delicate nerve cells and neural connections within the brain, resulting in difficulty with memory and other cognitive functions. There are seven different stages of Alzheimer's and it is easy to miss early signs and symptoms associated with the disease; because there is natural memory loss associated with old age, it is common for those with early Alzheimer's to attribute signs and symptoms to growing older.

One of the most common Alzheimer's signs is experiencing difficulty remembering past and recent events. This varies from typical age-related memory loss, as it is not limited solely to past memory loss. As some older people may show poor judgment once in a while, an Alzheimer's patient routinely displays poor judgment. Additionally, those with Alzheimer's may find it impossible to manage a monthly budget and find they can no longer keep track of time on a larger scale (i.e. days, weeks, and months.) Alzheimer's patients may have trouble communicating and may repeat the same words or stories. There is often a noticeable change in mood and inappropriate social behaviors may become profound. Those who suspect early signs of Alzheimer's disease should see their health care provider immediately.

Alzheimer's Signs: The Alzheimer's Association examines the 10 warning signs of the disease.
Alzheimer's Disease: An overview of Alzheimer's disease, its signs, and symptoms from the Center for Disease Control.

Alzheimer's Resources

Newly diagnosed Alzheimer's patient often experiences elevated distress after receiving their diagnosis; as there is no cure for Alzheimer's and the disease is progressive, there is a great amount of fear, stress, anxiety, and an overall sense of loss experienced by patients and those closest to them. As family members step into the role of caregiver following an Alzheimer's diagnosis, the need for strong support systems is vital. There are many organizations, associations, and local networks provide access to Alzheimer's resources for the patient, caregivers, family, and friends.

Alzheimer's Resources: Health Finder provides a list of the most requested Alzheimer's resources, tips, and help for the patient and caregiver.
Family Caregiver Alliance: The FCA provides resources and information for caregivers of those diagnosed with Alzheimer's.

Alzheimer's Medical Advancements

While there is no cure for Alzheimer's, scientists are continually studying to learn more and to identify its origin. Scientists search for new ways to manage symptoms, slow the disease's progression, and one day cure the disease. There are clinical trials sponsored by the U.S. government on an ongoing basis and to those interested in trying cutting edge medical procedures, treatments, and advancements. Though participating in a clinical trial offers no guarantees, it may offer alleviation from symptoms and new methods of living with this illness.

Alzheimer's Clinical Trials: The National Institute on Aging provides this database of clinical trials for those with Alzheimer's.
FDA Offers New Guidance on Developing Drugs for Alzheimer's Disease: A Press Announcement from the Food and Drug Administration discussing new methods used for combating Alzheimer's.

Alzheimer's and the Nurse's Role

Medical health care professionals play a vital role in Alzheimer's patient treatment, but none may have as much direct impact as nurses do. Whether in a nursing home facility, home visiting nurse, outside care, such as an adult day care center, or a facility that specializes in Alzheimer's care, the patient will have frequent, direct contact with a nurse. It's important that those working with Alzheimer's patients and their families have specific training and experience dealing with the various nuances associated with this type of patient care. The Alzheimer's patient has specific needs that must be met on a daily basis and nurses must understand how to communicate properly with Alzheimer's patients, provide the best care that meets a patient's physical and emotional needs, and withstand the rigors of working with Alzheimer's patients without becoming burned out. The role of nurse in the daily life of the Alzheimer's patient is extremely important and the relationship between nurse and patient is crucial to a patient's wellbeing.

Guidelines for Alzheimer's Disease Management: provides this resource for medical professionals, including nurses, who care for those with Alzheimer's.

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