Questions Asked by Teens About Alzheimer's Behavior
My daughter and I spoke to a number of her friends about their experiences of having a loved one or family friend with Alzheimer's disease. These are the questions they felt were most important to understanding and dealing with issues surrounding Alzheimer's. They felt a lot of the information that the internet provides can be confusing. They especially wanted more information about why behavior changes.
First, they wanted to Know Can Alzheimer's be Cured?
Unfortunately Alzheimer's cannot be cured. It is a degenerative disease, this means it gradually gets worse. Research into a cure, new types of medication, care for those with the disease is highly active, so there is hope for the future.
How Long Will They Live?
The average life expectancy after diagnosis is usually about 7 years but this average is based on a high proportion of elderly people having the disease. Alzheimer's can get worse over 6 to 20 years, there is no set date. A lot depends on their age, if they were healthy before they got Alzheimer's, whether they have other serious diseases such as heart failure and how good their care is.
What Causes Alzheimer's and Why Does it Affect Their Behavior?
Alzheimer's is a disease in which nerve cells gradually die in parts of the brain making functioning with everyday tasks much more difficult. The main reason this happens, scientists believe, is that clusters of plaques and tangles appear in the brain and this is what seems to stop normal brain function. The brain controls not only bodily functions but memory, learning, decision making, problem solving and all social, emotional and physical actions. This is the reason why people start to behave differently.
Will the person I know change a lot?
The person you know will change, but it is important to know that although Alzheimer's gradually takes away a person's abilities, they do not mean to worry you or to sometimes frighten you. They may be feeling frightened themselves and unsure of the changes happening to them. If you know that these changes are not their fault it does make a difference. That is why it is so important to treat your grandfather/ grandmother, friend or loved one, with the same respect you would always done, particularly as their disease advances.
Alzheimer's disease will change the person you know because so much of daily life is built around taught skills that we gradually learn as we grow. Imagine waking up each day and realising suddenly you cannot remember your way to school or what your best friends name is and how you would cope. This is what it is like for some people dealing with the disease.
Is it safe to be left alone with someone who has Alzheimer's?
The answer to this depends on a number of things, including your age and the usual actions of the loved one you know with Alzheimer's. It is not uncommon for those with Alzheimer's to become angry and occasionally violent. Their anger may sometimes be aimed at you, but it is not your fault. The loss of memory and understanding can cause people to feel frustrated, upset or unsafe and so in defence they may react. It is also more common in the later stages of the disease when the ability to control their actions becomes much more difficult.
If you do not feel safe and are the only caregiver you can ask for help from their doctor. They will help you get other services involved. Most times you will not be the main caregiver, it may be your mom, dad or both. It is unlikely they will leave you if they are aware you might not manage. Speak up if you're not comfortable with the situation. Most of the time Alzheimer's patients simply need help and you will be completely safe and your time together valued.
More often than not it is the person with Alzheimer's' safety that is more of a concern. They may wander and get lost. They may burn things on the cooker or become confused about what is and is not edible. The more the disease progresses the more likely accidents and forgetfulness become an issue and the more care and vigilance on their behalf is needed.
We hope this helps answer some of your questions. More information and help can be obtained from their doctor, the Alzheimer's Association and, perhaps, your parents.