Did you miss our May 16 online chat about caring for loved ones with Alzheimer's or other dementia-related diseases, hosted by Peter V. Rabins, M.D., coauthor of The 36-Hour Day: A Family Guide to Caring for Persons with Alzheimer Disease, Other Dementias, and Memory Loss? The transcript follows.
Comment from Guest: Is there a definitive, or rather, highly likely, set of behaviors that point toward Alzheimer's rather than simply aging?
Peter Rabins: Having difficulty doing something that you've always done easily, for example cooking a meal or filling out a checkbook, should raise concern that there is a significant problem. However, a specific diagnosis of Alzheimer's can only be made after a thorough evaluation.
Comment from Doug: My dad is 87 years old and was recently diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer and my mom is 82 years old. She has been experiencing difficulties with daily tasks such as paying bills, grocery shopping, household chores and we've noticed issues with her memory and would like to get her evaluated for Alzheimer's or dementia. The problem is she refuses to go to the doctor. It is becoming increasingly more difficult for her to care for my dad. She has resisted seeing a doctor or looking at assisted living facilities. What can we do to get the necessary care for my parents?
Peter Rabins: It sometimes helps to put it in the context of yourself. For example, "I would like to know if I'm worrying too much about you."
Comment from Alehandro: Banal questions: do exist drugs to heal dementia? Do Antipsychotic drugs help or not? Is it possible to heal from cognitive loss?
Peter Rabins: Right now, there is no cure for Alzheimer's.
Anti-psychotic drugs should only be used when other approaches have failed and the problems are very severe and upsetting.
People can dramatically recover from stroke; that demonstrates that the brain has a significant capacity to heal and recover.
Comment from Mary: My mother suffers from dementia; occasionally she gets a UTI (Urinary Tract Infection) which exacerbates her symptoms of forgetfulness and confusion. Is this common and should we ask for a lab test on a regular basis to see if that is the cause for periodic flare-ups in her behavior?
Peter Rabins: Yes, it is common for infections such as a urinary tract infection or a cold to cause worsening of symptoms. However, routine testing is not recommended because many infections do not cause a worsening of symptoms.
Comment from Linda: My husband desperately wants to relearn the simple things he has forgotten how to do. Can someone with Alzheimer's learn or is this a hopeless task of repetition?
Peter Rabins: It is easier for people to learn physical activities compared to facts. That is one reason why we encourage people to stay physically active as long as they are enjoying it.
Comment from Guest: Physician and professional staff development needs to be a priority on educating them about the caregiver burden.
Peter Rabins: I agree. Being a caregiver, whether as a professional or as a family member can be very challenging. It is important to remember that there are many learning resources that caregivers can use to improve how they care for someone with dementia.
It is also important to remember that caregiving can be emotionally taxing. It helps to have someone to talk to and it is very important for family caregivers to stay socially engaged with friends, family, church, etc.
Comment from Linda: My husband is 5 years into (from diagnosis) early Alzheimer's. Statistically speaking, he probably doesn't have many years left. He has never wanted to hear about the specifics of what is happening to him and so is unaware of the short amount of time he may have left. I haven't shared those statistics with him. Should I? Or is it kinder to let him slip, unaware of this, into whatever the next few years bring.
Peter Rabins: Many people with Alzheimer's disease live longer than nine years.
Unfortunately, the disease blocks many people's awareness of their impairment. If a person does not recognize how severe their symptoms are, it is not helpful to try to make them appreciate the depth of the problems.