Much of what the average individual hears and reads about Alzheimer’s disease in the media tends to focus on the effects this devastating disease has on those who have contracted the disease… How it impacts them, the drugs that are currently available to help control the behavioral changes and/or combat memory loss, and the research studies and Alzheimer’s Clinical Trials constantly being undertaken in an effort to find more effective and resilient ways of understanding and treating memory loss. However, those who have contracted this devastating disease are not the only ones impacted in a significant way by this disease. There are other casualties. As the disease progresses, those with Alzheimer’s disease will become more and more dependent on others for their day to day care and safety. Their behavior/personality will frequently change, becoming more and more erratic and disturbing, which will begin to interfere with and limit their participation in normal social activities and the maintenance of interpersonal relationships.
The impact on those in frequent contact with a person with Alzheimer’s disease can be profound. As such, family members can be thought of as collateral victims as well. Take, for instance, spouses… Spouses are generally of advanced age. Many are frail and/or have medical problems of their own that either limits their mobility and/or requires medical management. It is not uncommon for caregivers of Alzheimer’s patients to forego seeing a doctor or obtaining required medical tests or treatments because they do not have someone reliable to take care of their spouse while they are out of the house. As the disease progresses, Alzheimer’s patients will require constant supervision so that they do not injure themselves, wander out of the house and get lost or turn on and leave unattended stoves or ovens.
Children of those with Alzheimer’s disease have their own challenges. First and foremost, it depends on the relationship of the child to their parent. As I am sure you know, not every child has a close, nurturing relationship with his or her parent. If the relationship between the parent and the child is strained, this will definitely have an impact on the help the child will be willing and able to provide to the parent. It is also important to recognize that the adult children of a person with Alzheimer’s disease will likely have a job/career and a family of their own that they must care for. Time and money may be a significant factor on what, if anything, they will be able to do to help with the care and management of a parent with Alzheimer’s disease.
Friends and associates will also become casualties to this disease as the Alzheimer’s sufferer’s cognitive and behavioral changes begin to appear. For example, the person’s ability to work or participate in such social activities as going out to dinner, playing golf or cards, attending shows or movies, attending community activities and/or attending religious functions will become more and more difficult to do well. This is because the person with advanced Alzheimer’s disease will find it more and more difficult to remember and follow what is being said. There is also the increased likelihood that they will act inappropriately, which will disturb others or make those around them uncomfortable. In the end, friends and associates will tend to shy away from them, thus further shrinking the support network available to the patient and his/her family.
There are, however, resources out there that can help. First and foremost, there are such organizations as the Alzheimer’s Association and Alzheimer’s Foundation of America that are there to help. They provide important information on warning signs, what to expect as the disease progresses, and how to care for and manage someone with Alzheimer’s disease. They also provide up-to-date information on new and evolving research findings and/or opportunities to participate in Alzheimer’s Clinical Trials.
In the end, if you or someone you know has or suspects they may have Alzheimer’s disease, it will be important to learn as much as you can as quickly as you can. Time is of the essence as Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive and ultimately incurable disease with wide-ranging implications on both the person with the disease as well as everyone they come in regular contact with.