One of the true cruelties of old age is what disease and simply the passage of time may do to work against the mind. What some people may regard as senility or being “a little confused” may in fact be symptomatic of a serious underlying problem that, as the days, weeks, months and years go by, will only get worse, to the point beloved family members may be a proverbial shell of their former selves, or their personality may change radically from what people once knew of them.
Such is the tragedy of Alzheimer’s and dementia. These two conditions are similar and are often concurrent in nursing home residents, but with all due respect, they are their own separate concerns. Still, noting their confluence, “Alzheimer’s facilities” must cater to them both. Therefore, whether or not a facility is designed expressly to treat Alzheimer’s disease or simply specializes in Alzheimer’s and dementia services, nursing home staff (and not just nurses, at that) should be able to identify the signs of these conditions in residents.
The following are some considerations on what accommodations Alzheimer’s facilities must make in providing care to the elderly:
First and foremost, if Alzheimer’s and dementia are to be handled properly within Alzheimer’s facilities, they must be understood and differentiated by the very people that staff these centers. To restate, Alzheimer’s and dementia are not exactly one in the same. For the sake of analogy, much in the way all squares are rectangles but not all rectangles are squares in the field of mathematics, Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia, but not all dementia patients suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, though a majority of dementia cases are related to Alzheimer’s.
Dementia is a class of disorders that are marked by impingement on normal functioning, with common symptoms including lack of judgment, lack of bodily control, memory loss, and a warped sense of time and location. Alzheimer’s disease, meanwhile, often tends to be understood in terms of its physical structure. Deficiencies attributable to Alzheimer’s can in turn be related to the appearances of what are known as “plaques and tangles” in the brain, believed by some to disrupt neural communications and blocking attempts of dying neural cells to survive.
In terms of how Alzheimer’s facilities and general geriatric care facilities treat Alzheimer’s and dementia, the unfortunate news is that beyond damage control, so to speak, there is not much at present that can be done to treat these health issues. Although this is not to say that there are absolutely no treatments to be had to combat dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, to date, no cure has been developed to stop either of them in their tracks or reverse the damage they have wrought.
Accordingly, most medications developed by researchers and used by Alzheimer’s facilities are designed to either slow the progression of these conditions and/or are experimental in nature.
Aside from drugs, nursing home staff, family members and friends of Alzheimer’s and dementia patients should strive to interact with them in a way which respects the idea that, while these individuals may not make literal sense in many cases and may seem wildly different from how they once were, they are still deserving of decent, humane treatment.
Above all else, people should be sympathetic and patients with those who suffer from dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, allowing them time to express themselves and creating an environment that puts as little pressure on them to “behave normally” as possible.
If these individuals begin to become agitated because they do not understand their immediate environment as a byproduct of dementia, professionals and other observers to reorient them to the exact nature of their surroundings, without saying or doing anything else to upset them. Intentionally “riling up” patients or belittling them for their struggles is not only counterproductive, but realistically constitutes mental and emotional abuse.