ALZHEIMER'S DISEASE

The most common cause of the Dementia

As mentioned in the section about Dementia, "Dementia" is best understood as a symptom of a disease that impairs our normal brain functioning.  There are many diseases that can lead to the symptom of dementia.   This could be chronic alcohol use, a stroke, Parkinson's disease or several others.  However, the most common cause is Alzheimer's Disease. 

Alzheimer's disease starts destroying brain cells years before it becomes symptomatic. Because the disease affects brain cells, the symptoms are from impairment in brain function.  At first the changes are subtle.  They may include a loss of ability to perform multi-step tasks that before were simple. T his may include laundry, paying bills, managing money generally, cooking, making travel arrangements, and performing other tasks that require planning and following a sequence of events to complete the task.  Family members may find clothes sitting for days in the washing machine, unpaid bills and utilities turned off, missed appointments, and increased reliance on frozen dinners that require only microwave preparation.  It is unlikely that the person suffering the disease will acknowledge these problems and will have explanations that may seem reasonable.

At the same time or perhaps a bit later, failing "short term" memory will become more apparent.  There will be questions asked repeatedly in the same day or even the same phone call.  Medicines may be forgotten or improperly taken.  The individual may start misplacing things, and because he/she has lost much of the ability to store memories, they will understandably believe that someone has moved, hidden, or stolen them.

Therefore the individual may believe that someone has been coming into the home to move or steal possessions.  Often, the individual will start to hide items to thwart theft of possession and have no recollection of hiding the items, much less that they were ever hidden.  Of course, this reinforces the perception of theft and the need to hide more things.  Often the family will notice this because items will appear in strange places for no reason, and the individual will have no idea how they got there because the individual was not able to encode that memory in anyway to preserve it.  


It may be helpful to remember that the last location of a "moved" item does not exist anywhere in the individual's memory, so to try to convince that individual of their memory mistake may escalate into a level of conflict that seems exaggerated and a simple misunderstanding to others.  


However, recall of moving the item or many other recent memories are completely gone and therefore not something one can "remind" the patient into recalling.  In fact, attempts to remind the individual of the lost memory presents what may appear to be an unwarranted and offensive challenge his/her credibility, soundness of mind and/or integrity.   It is understandable, then, that all involved parties may become frustrated very easily.