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Alzheimers/Dementia Awareness

I’m going to start by giving a few definitions on Alzheimers and Dementia, so that up front we can learn that these two things are different. Many people use the two terms interchangeably but they actually are not the same thing. Dementia is a general term used for memory loss which is severe enough to interfere with daily life. Dementia is a very broad term, so you may think you’re using it to describe Alzheimer’s disease when really you’re using a broad term which could be any 1 of 10 different forms of Dementia. Alzheimers is a form of Dementia causing problems with memory and behavior.

It is the most common form of Dementia, 60%- 80% of Dementia cases are Alzheimers. Many people think that Alzheimers is normal part of aging, this isn’t true. Even though age can be a risk factor, Alzheimers is NOT normal. Majority of Alzheimers patients are older in age, but there is also something called early-onset Alzheimers. Up to 5% of Alzheimers patients are early-onset, which usually occurs between ages of 40 and 50 years old. Alzheimers has no cure and gradually worsens over time. It is the sixth leading cause of death in the U. S.

Vascular Dementia is another form of Dementia caused by conditions that block or reduce blood flow to the brain. Vascular Dementia cases are about 20%-30% of Dementia cases. Just like Alzheimers, old age is also a risk factor for this form of Dementia. Other risks include heart disease, strokes, and blood vessel disorders. Dementia with Lewy Bodies or DLB is a progressive form of Dementia that leads to decline in reasoning, thinking, and functioning. This form of Dementia is the cause for 10%-25% of Dementia cases, making it the third most common form. Lewy Bodies are also found in conditions, such as Alzheimers and Parkinson’s disease.

Parkinson’s disease is a disorder of the nervous system that movement and usually includes tremors. As the brain of someone who has Parkinson’s changes, it effects the memory and attentiveness of the person. About 50%-80% of people with Parkinson’s, eventually develop Parkinson’s disease Dementia. There is also Mixed Dementia which occurs when you are suffering from more than one form of Dementia. It is also known as Dementia Multifactoral. The most common form of this is Alzheimers and Vascular Dementia. There are also some cases of Alzheimers, Vascular, and DLB.

Frontotemporal Dementia or FTD refers to a group of disorders caused by progressive nerve loss. This form causes deterioration of behavior, personality, and language. Most people with this form develop it at about 60 years old and live fewer years than those with Alzheimers. Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease or CJD is the most common of a group of rare, fatal brain disorders. This disease occurs when prion protein begins folding into an abnormal three-dimensional shape. This disease results in rapid decline in thinking and reasoning, difficulty walking and mood changes. This disease only occurs in about 1 in one million people annually.

Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus is a brain disorder that causes cerebrospinal fluid to accumulate in the brains ventricle. This disorder causes problems with thinking, difficulty walking, and urine incontinence. The disorder is normally seen in older adults between 60-70 years of age. Huntington’s disease is a brain disorder caused by a defective gene on chromosome 4. It causes irritability and depression, decline in thinking, and involuntary movements. The disease is caused by a dominant trait, passed down from a parent. There is no cure, and no way to slow the disease or the changes that it causes in the brain.

Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome is a chronic memory disorder cause by deficiency of thiamine. The most common cause is alcohol addiction. About 25% of people who develop this disorder recover from it, about half improve but don’t fully recover, and about 25% do not improve at all. Now that I have given the definitions and some statistics on the different types of Dementia, I think we can see how different they all are. This is why I chose to do this topic, to teach myself and others about the many different forms of memory loss and how they can affect the human brain. I, like others, really only knew about Dementia as a whole, and Alzheimers.

The different types of Dementia opened my eyes to how many different forms memory loss can take. Working in healthcare, I see a lot of Alzheimers and Dementia. I have many different experiences with these types of patients. Every case of Dementia and Alzheimer’s is different, they affect every patient’s brain and behavior a little differently. Also, every patient’s reaction to certain re-orientation methods are different. Some methods of calming or re-orientating work very well for some patients, some methods will cause the patient to become agitated and violent. Every person with memory loss shows their emotions differently.

Some people cry when they’re confused, some people will lash out on the first person they see, some people will lash out on themselves, some people will just simply isolate themselves, and some people will deny it over and over again. That is why it is so important to be patient with those with memory loss, they aren’t trying to react in this way. They have lost the most special part of themselves, their memory, all the thoughts and memories of all the things they hold dearest to their hearts. I have heard from patients family members that they become the complete opposite of the person they used to be.

An example of this is when I was working in a Dementia unit at an assisted living home, I had a resident there who was as sweet as can be. She would never yell or hit. She would simply cry, when she got confused. She would cry and ask questions. When the family of this resident came in to visit, we all told them how lovely and sweet their mother was and their reaction came as quite a shock, they seemed to be in disbelief. They told us how mean she used to be, before developing Alzheimer’s. I also had another resident from the same memory unit who was the complete opposite, she was constantly acting out.

She would lash out, hit the staff and other residents, scream at the top of her lungs, call people names, and try to get out of the unit through the locked doors with as much force as she could manage. Her daughter came to visit a few times, each time in shock of the report of her mother’s actions. Her daughter would tell us stories of how sweet she used to be and how this disease completely changed her. The two examples that I’ve provided above are just 2 of many different examples of how the disease changes the people and their families.

It can also show you how frustrating and hard it can be on the patient, just imagine trying to search your brain for a memory and only being able to recall bits and pieces of it. Imagine not knowing your children or grandchildren’s names, or imagine not even recognizing them and seeing the pain it causes them. You forget the most important things, the things that are every part of what makes you who you are. Patience is key when dealing with Alzheimer’s and Dementia, things that work to calm them don’t always work every time. Sometimes, nothing works.

Sometimes no amount of explanation or calming technique will calm them. You just take this disease as it comes and learn to cope with it because in most cases, you are a voice for someone who doesn’t have one any longer. These patients can say something that sounds completely out of whack, something that makes absolutely no sense, and they could just be trying to tell you that they are hungry or tired, or that they need to use the bathroom. We in the communications field will have to be the voice for these people because they may think they are making total sense, when really, they are making no sense at all.

Just like mental illness, we as telecommunicators need to recognize the signs of Alzheimer’s and Dementia and try our hardest to make sense of the call because they are relying on us. We also need to realize that they may be screaming or crying or mean to you, they don’t mean to so try to be patient with them. Alzheimer’s and Dementia are becoming more and more prevalent in our community and we need to raise awareness to keep those suffering from the diseases safe. I feel that for a telecommunicator, learning about the signs and differences in the diseases can help if they ever have a call from a person suffering from Alzheimer’s or Dementia.

Rather than getting aggravated and possibly hanging up it may help to understand that what they are saying is a real problem to them and they may be saying something and meaning something else. We have to just try our hardest to ensure the safety of these people because they are depending on us. Just recently, I had a patient who was very confused. So confused that they were in soft mits, a form of restraints, used to keep them from pulling out tubes or hurting themselves or someone else. This particular patient was concerned about a court date.

Being that I don’t know the patient or the family on a personal level, I’m not even sure if it’s a real court date or a past court date, or if they were using the term “court date” while actually meaning something else. All I knew was that they were very upset and distraught about possibly missing this court date and I just had to keep ensuring them that they don’t have a court date today because the courthouse is closed at this time. Finally after a while of reassuring the patient, they calmed down and relaxed a bit. But it took many tries, which shows how big of a role patience plays when dealing with someone with Dementia.

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