November is National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month and National Family Caregivers Month.
My first exposure to Alzheimer’s disease occurred in the late 1980s. My father, a very strong, intelligent, and independent man, started having episodes of confusion, memory loss, and changed behavior. When he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, none of us had ever heard of the disease before, but we quickly learned. Along with my sisters and my mother, I was a caregiver for my father until he required more medical care than could be provided at home.
Two decades later, my husband was diagnosed with the same devastating disease, and I again became a caregiver. Even though I thought I knew a lot about Alzheimer’s, I had more to learn.
My sister was so impacted by caregiving for my father than she returned to school for a degree in social work. She was a blessing to me during Jack’s illness, encouraging me as well as giving help and practical advice. Nancy, a social worker in a nursing home, is a certified dementia practitioner and the author of an excellent guide for caregivers: Help! What Do I Do Now? Caring for Your Loved One with Alzheimer’s.
She says, “When you’ve met one Alzheimer’s patient, you’ve met one Alzheimer’s patient.” Each patient is unique–while there are common symptoms, no two individuals have the same symptoms or behave in the same way.
Unlike the time of my father’s diagnosis, most people today have heard of Alzheimer’s and probably know people with the disease. The symptom of memory loss is well-known. Not everyone knows, however, that the problems extend far beyond memory. One of the most difficult issues to deal with is personality change. Often patients exhibit behaviors that are difficult to handle and seem irrational.
I recommend that you put a little effort into learning about Alzheimer’s so if you encounter it in someone you love, you won’t be as shocked and ignorant as my family was when the doctor told us Daddy had Alzheimer’s.
You can begin your search right here on this blog. Results from a search for “Alzheimer’s” will lead you to posts I’ve written, many of which have links to excellent resources about the disease.