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Is it possible for a man suffering from Alzheimer's disease to regress back to a former stage in his life? Can he believe he is a single man, even though he is 80 and has been married for 50 years?? Can he understand that the world is not as it was when he was 20? Has he forgotten all those years of marriage? Is there a clinical term for this symptom? [ 08/30/11 ]

The clinical term you are looking for is simply Alzheimer's disease or dementia. This is what the disease does: it impairs a person's memory, robs his personality, and can make a person behave completely out of character. Many times, the only memories that are left untouched by the disease are the oldest ones, such as when the person was young. Additionally, Alzheimer's disease can affect the portions of the brain involved in social behavior and rationality/reasoning, causing the patient to act in socially inappropriate ways and/or to live in his or her own reality. This is likely why this man you speak of may think he is only 20 years old and single instead of 80 and married.

Why are communication boards important? [ 08/28/11 ]

Communication boards are a low-tech means to allow dementia patients who can no longer speak, or who can no longer speak well due to language impairment (aphasia), to communicate on a basic level by pointing to symbols and pictures on a board or on cards. This allows the patients to express their basic needs (hunger, thirst, toilet, pain, etc.) as well as to communicate simple emotions (how much they like or dislike something, if they are tired, bored, happy, anxious, etc.) and desire for activities (watch TV, listen to music, go for a walk) which they could not have otherwise expressed. In this way, communication boards allow patients to have more involvement in their own care, which can help to reduce anxiety on the part of the patient as well as to decrease frustration for both patient and caregiver alike. And because the cards or boards provide visual reminders of what has been discussed, the patient can better “keep up” and contribute to a conversation, thus offering a more enjoyable experience for the Alzheimer's patient when communicating with others.

My mother-in-law is sleepy all the time and is becoming incontinent. She is still alert but forgets most details. We tried to place her in an assisted living facility, but she refused to go. What can we do? [ 08/26/11 ]

Moving a dementia patient to an assisted living facility can be difficult all by itself without the added complication of the loved one's refusal to go. Your mother-in-law may feel that it is not yet necessary for her to move to assisted living. She does not understand why you want her to live somewhere else other than at home. Reasoning with her is unlikely to help because most dementia patients no longer have the ability to reason. Instead you can try begging, bribing and bargaining with her. Offer her something she really likes (her favorite food, a trip to the hairdresser, a new purse or whatever it is she adores) in exchange for just visiting the facility. If this works (and the facility is willing to help you on this), try going for longer visits and staying with her during the visits. You do not want her to get the feeling that you are abandoning her. You want her to feel less anxious about her new home; it may take several visits before this happens. Make sure you always talk positively about the facility when you are in her presence.

As much as possible, involve her in the process too. Perhaps she does not like the facility you selected. Are there any other options available? The move may seem less scary to her if she can select which facility she prefers. Also, is there someone else that she trusts or respects, such as a doctor, friend or clergy, who could help you to talk to her about this? She might be more agreeable if someone else suggests that it is time for her to move to assisted living.

If she is amenable to visiting the facility (and the visits seem to go well), then she might also be willing to have a short stay at the facility. You could make a deal that if she tries out the facility and stays for a certain length of time (four weeks, for example) and if she still really doesn't like it, then she can come back home. However, you have to be prepared hold your end of the bargain and move her back if she remembers the deal and wants to come home at the end of her stay.

Finally, unless she is an immediate danger to herself or her home (she left the gas on or has started a fire), then perhaps you could work out a temporary compromise with her. For example, perhaps additional help, such as a hired caregiver, would allow her to remain at home for a longer period of time before it becomes necessary to move her to an assisted living facility. This may take some of the burden off of you and make her happy in that she can stay at home for longer.

What is the best way to approach someone, who you suspect is in the early stage of Alzheimer’s disease, about seeing a doctor for an evaluation? If the person never admits that anything is ever wrong with them, they will likely rebel and take offense at the suggestion to see a doctor. [ 08/26/11 ]

Your approach will mainly depend on your relationship to the person. If you are very close to the person (for example, the person's spouse, child, sibling, grandchild, etc.) you may be able to cajole the person into seeing a doctor by emphasizing how much you are concerned for his or her overall health and how much better you would feel if he or she had a checkup. If you are around the same age as this person, you can just say that a regular checkup is something that everyone does when they reach a certain age. You do not need to mention Alzheimer's disease at this point; instead focus on another health concern (high blood pressure or swollen joints, for example). Insist that you would like to help by scheduling the doctor's appointment for him or her. You can then alert the doctor's office that the main concern should be memory and cognitive testing.

If, however, you are simply a friend or co-worker, you may have to just risk offending the person and suggest that they visit the doctor for a memory screening test. Again, emphasize that memory testing is routine and just something all adults have to endure as they get older.

My father-in-law has severe Alzheimer’s disease. He can’t talk clearly, and told us that he needs to wear a retainer. How can wearing a retainer help an Alzheimer’s patient? [ 08/26/11 ]

If anything, wearing a retainer will make it more difficult for your father-in-law to speak clearly. Perhaps your father-in-law may be confusing a retainer with some other device or treatment. He may, for example, not produce much saliva and this is may contribute to difficulty in speaking. If this is the case, then allowing him to suck on something (such as a sugar-free life saver hard candy) may stimulate saliva production.

How do you reason with someone who has Alzheimer’s disease? My father-in-law, who is 87 years old, lives with us. He argues with us all the time now. We don't want to argue or dispute him, but that's what it always comes down to. He yells at us because he says we don't ever believe him, and he also yells at our young children for no reason. We want him to be happy and comfortable but at times he makes our life miserable. Is there any way to reason with hem? Please help! [ 08/04/11 ]

Unfortunately, there really is no way to reason with Alzheimer's patients because the rational part of their mind is impaired. As such, the best way to deal with an argumentative patient is to not argue back as much as is realistically possible, and then to placate him (agree with him or give him what he wants even if your first instinct is to say “no” or “you're wrong), change the subject to something less contentious, or distract him with a new activity (ideally something he enjoys). Importantly, try to stay calm and positive when dealing with your father-in-law (easier said than done, yes). Oftentimes, it is not the subject matter that is upsetting to a patient, but the fact that he cannot understand what you are telling them. He therefore becomes frustrated and may feel that “no one understands what he is saying” when in fact the converse is true.

Therefore, when speaking to him, make sure you are in the same room as him and try to look directly at him when talking. Always keep directions clear and simple, and explain yourself even when you think something is perfectly clear. For example, if your father-in-law becomes upset that you are turning the lights off before bedtime, you simply say, “I am turning off the lights now. It is time for bed. We always turn off the lights at bedtime.”

You might also try to determine if there are certain situations that trigger his outbursts against your children. Children by nature can be loud and unpredictable, especially young children, and this can agitate persons with dementia or else cause them to become anxious. In an active household, even normal background noise and commotion from various sources (TV, radio, lawn equipment, street traffic, household appliances, pets, etc.) can agitate a person with Alzheimer's disease. Add to this mix noisy, energetic children and you can see why it might make a dementia patient snap.

There is no way to stop your kids from making noise or playing in their own home (nor should you), but as much as they can comprehend, you can encourage them to do their lively activities outside or else in another part of the house from your father-in-law. However, this does not mean that you should totally separate your children from their grandfather. All of them can benefit from spending time together, so long as the activity is structured. For example, try to encourage quiet activities that both your children and father-in-law are capable of participating. Reading, looking at photo albums (or creating a new photo album), simple gardening (or for you kids, just digging in the dirt or sand), taking walks, making cookies, or other simple crafts (think finger painting, drawing) can be enjoyable for both parties.

Remember to keep the activity simple and short. Your father-in-law, for instance, may only be able to tolerate 10 minutes of one-on-one time with your kids (or vice versa). So try to have a defined time in mind before beginning, and make everyone aware what that time limit is. If your father-in-law has several positive experiences like this, there may be greater harmony in the household which could lead to reduced agitation and fewer angry outbursts.

My mother has Alzheimer’s disease. Her short-term memory is gone, but her long-term memory is just fine. We want her to use her walker, but she just can't remember that she needs to use it. Through repetition or other methods is it possible to help an Alzheimer’s patient remember something important? [ 08/05/11 ]

Repetition is probably the best method to get someone, even a person having Alzheimer's disease, to remember something. The more often someone is exposed to something, the more likely they are to remember it. However, don't limit yourself to simply repeatedly telling your mother to use a walker. Use other means of reminding her such as written memos (post-it notes on places you are sure she will see), or pictures or drawings showing her using the walker.

It is also possible that your mother does not use the walker because it is uncomfortable or awkward for her, so be sure to check that it is properly fitted for her size and that it has comfortable grips. It might also be that your mother simply is embarrassed that she has to use a walker; her pride might be what is impeding her from using it, not her memory. Whether or not this is the case, be positive when you remind her—don't berate or belittle her for not using her walker. Keep telling her that you are concerned for her safety, and that you would feel much better knowing that she is using her walker.

My husband is in early to middle stages of Alzheimer's disease. We have a dog that my husband is very attached to that may have a malignancy. If we have to put the dog down, how important would it be to get another one? Our landlord frowns on pets but let us keep our pet when we moved in. I'm afraid that they might not let us get another dog, which will adversely affect my husband. I work part time outside the home and the dog is great company for my husband. [ 08/03/11 ]

Numerous reports have praised the emotional, cognitive and physical benefits of pet therapy in the elderly, and particularly those having dementia. Since your husband is clearly a dog-lover, he certainly stands to benefit from the companionship a dog can provide. Dogs can be very helpful to dementia patients aside from the companionship they provide. For example, some service dogs have been trained to provide assistance to the unique situation a dementia patient presents, such as alerting caregivers if the patient wanders, guiding the patient back home, and alerting the patient or caregiver to potential dangers or in situations where the patient is in need of physical assistance. Therefore, a dog can provide many benefits not only to your husband, but also to you for the peace of mind knowing that you have another pair of eyes looking out for your husband's well-being. Additionally, some reports have suggested that a companion dog can typically prolong the time a dementia patient can remain at home before it is necessary to transfer him or her to a care facility.

All of this sounds great, but the downside is that a well-trained service dog can be very expensive. Talk to pet therapy volunteer organizations in your area, or else pet rescue organizations, and let them know you are looking to find a companion dog with a good temperament that can cope with a person having potentially unpredictable behaviors. Don't forget that even if your husband loves the dog, as his disease progresses it is possible that he may someday yell or lash out at the dog for no apparent reason, and a dog having a timid or else potentially aggressive personality would not be a good match. Look for an adult dog, not a young puppy, because you want to know what the dog's personality really is, not what it might someday become.

Under the Fair Housing Act, service animals, as well as companion or comfort animals, must be allowed in multi-family rental buildings, such as an apartment building, regardless of whether the establishment has a “no pets” policy. A service dog is not a pet, it is a working animal. Therefore, if you do find yourself in the unfortunate situation of having to get another dog, speak to your landlord about your decision. Ask him what his concerns are and try to come up with ways to fairly address them. Is he worried that the dog will damage the property? The Fair Housing Act prohibits charging a pet deposit for service or companion animals, even if one is normally charged for animals living in the building. However, you could tell your landlord that you will reasonably repair any extraordinary damage the dog may cause. Is he worried about noise from the dog? Tell him that a well-behaved dog might actually reduce potential disruptions, particularly from your husband, because a dog can provide a calming effect when an Alzheimer's patient becomes agitated. You can also tell him that the dog can serve as a safety device, alerting others if your husband starts to wander or if he may be doing something dangerous when you are not home.

My 76-year-old mother had a stroke approximately four years ago, and suffered diminished capacity in movement and mental function. Six months ago, she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. We see all the typical signs, but the one thing that disturbs us the most is that she has started to steal things. Is this a normal symptom of the disease? [ 08/02/11 ]

Patients with Alzheimer's disease (AD) often have lowered inhibitions, which may cause them to act in strange or socially unacceptable ways. For example, some caregivers report that patients may undress in public, whistle or hum constantly, or even make inappropriate, lewd or flirtatious advances towards others. So within the realm of abnormal behaviors encompassed by Alzheimer's disease, stealing objects can be viewed as “normal.”

For example, AD patients may simply have trouble remembering the distinction between what belongs to them and what belongs to others. Your mother may see something she likes and may simply take it without regard to who the object belongs. Also, some patients become paranoid or suspicious that other people may be taking their valuables, and therefore to preempt such losses, they begin to take things themselves. AD patients have been known to hoard food or other items. This behavior most likely is due to anxiety, fear, insecurity, or confusion. The hoarding is a sort of a comfort to the AD patient, as the action of gathering and hoarding often calms their anxieties.

Watch when your mother takes an object. Typically, patients will have special “hiding spots” where they will store their booty. If the items your mother is taking are not dangerous or necessary (like someone's medication), then you can just allow her to collect the items and, at the end of the day when she is asleep or else is preoccupied, you can return the items to their proper places. You can also provide gentle reminders that what she has picked up, for example, does not belong to her. Then trying offering your mother another item of interest as a substitute for the stolen object if she does not willingly give them up.

My dad has Alzheimer’s disease, and my mom tries to watch after him. He has been threatening to leave in by car. What can she do? She is not physically able to stop him, and when she tries to hide the keys, he becomes abusive. Please tell me what to do. [ 07/13/11 ]

It may be time to have your father's driver's license revoked. If he has reached the point where he is making irrational threats, and particularly if he displays abusive behaviors, then he should not be allowed to drive at all because he could potentially use the car as weapon against anyone who upsets him. Your mother should contact your father's doctor and inform him or her of the situation. The doctor may be able to get the license revoked through the state DMV. Plus, the doctor can be the one to break the bad news to your father that he is no longer allowed to drive. Tell your mother that she can help to diffuse his anger by being sympathetic to the situation. For example, she can say, “That is so unfair that you cannot drive anymore. You must feel so frustrated. I would be mad too.”

For your mother's well-being I would also consider obtaining the services of a care assistant who could check in on your parents regularly and help your mother out with your father's care. Do not dismiss your father's abusive behavior. Physical violence in dementia patients is not common, but if it does happen it can cause serious harm to either or both of your parents. For this reason, talking to your father's doctor about the possibility of using mood-stabilizing medications would be very helpful.

Finally, if you live close to your parents, then it may be worthwhile to just take their car and keep it at your home. Even without a license, your father may still try to drive. He may simply forget that his license has been revoked, and therefore may need reminders from you and your mother that he is no longer allowed to drive. Therefore, if the car is gone, there will be no worry that he will try to drive. Of course, then you would be responsible for ferrying them around and yes, it may be inconvenient for everyone, but it would only be until your father lost interest in going out for drives. Even still, your mother should continue to hide the keys once the car was returned to her.

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Disclaimer: The information provided in this section is a public service of the BrightFocus Foundation, and should not in any way substitute for the advice of a qualified healthcare professional and is not intended to constitute medical advice. Although we take efforts to keep the medical information on our website updated, we cannot guarantee that the information on our website reflects the most up-to-date research. Please consult your physician for personalized medical advice; all medications and supplements should only be taken under medical supervision. The BrightFocus Foundation does not endorse any medical product or therapy.

Some of the content in this section is adapted from other sources, which are clearly identified within each individual item of information.

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