Alzheimer’s was diagnosed over 100 years ago in 1906 by its namesake, Dr. Alois Alzheimer, a German clinical psychiatrist and neuroanatomist. He discovered the disease during an autopsy of a former patient who had experienced acute memory loss, erratic behavior and language issues for several years prior to her death. During the postmortem exam, he noticed abnormal clumps in his patient’s brain tissue (amyloid plaques) and tangled bundles of fibers (neurofibrillary) and realized he had uncovered a new disorder.
Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia, a term that describes the development of multiple cognitive deficits with the most recognized one being memory decline. There are many types of dementia and the most common one is Alzheimer’s, a progressive brain disease that impacts learning. Early symptoms almost always include changes in memory. To assess whether a person’s memory decline is from Alzheimer’s, some other type of dementia, or some other issue, doctors can conduct certain tests, including magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT) scans.
Currently, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s but some with the brain disorder can slow its rate of progression by practicing a healthy lifestyle. This includes getting ample sleep, exercise and maintaining a wholesome diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables. In addition, it’s recommended that people with the disease “exercise” their brains by playing games that “workout” their mental faculties such as crossword puzzles, bridge and reading.
Another way for people with Alzheimer’s to “exercise” their brain is through music therapy, a unique service that VNA offers. Certified music therapists can help with cognitive, social and behavioral functioning as well as aid in decreasing anxiety and depression, two common symptoms of the disease. Music can reach areas of the brain not affected by Alzheimer’s, providing a familiar and comforting facet that can elevate a patient’s mood, decrease anxiety, and create connection. And music therapists are trained to adapt their exercises to meet each individual where they are in their disease progression, resulting in a more meaningful and beneficial lesson.
There are three stages of Alzheimer’s, early, middle and late, and the rate of progression varies from person to person. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the average person with the disease lives four to eight years after diagnosis but can live as long as 20. In the early stage, a person may simply experience some memory lapse. By the middle stage, a person experiences more symptoms due to increased damage to the nerve cells in their brain, including increased forgetfulness, changes in sleeping patterns and moodiness and depression, particularly with regards to mentally challenging situations. This stage lasts several years.
A person with late-stage Alzheimer’s has significant neurological damage, including the inability to carry on a conversation and near total, if not total, memory loss. Compounding this is that most at this point are unable to walk or maintain control of their bladder and bowels. All of these issues greatly weaken their immune system making them vulnerable to other diseases. In fact, the leading cause of death in Alzheimer’s patients is a secondary infection, commonly a bacterial one that their immunocompromised body is too weak to fight, like pneumonia.
Alzheimer’s does not just impact the individual who has it, but their caregiver as well, 40 percent of whom experience depression due to the stress of caring for someone with this type of dementia. That’s why it’s imperative that caregivers get a reprieve from their duties.
VNA can help with this. Our private care team, made up of professional certified nursing assistants and home health assistants, can provide support with many day-to-day responsibilities. Daily living activities such as bathing and showering, meal preparation, transportation to and from appointments along with companion services can help provide caregivers the respite they need.
To learn more about how VNA Private Care can help, call the VNA at 772.494.6161. For a music therapy assessment, contact your nurse, physical therapist, occupational therapist or call the VNA.