This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, October 19, 1994

October 19, 1994 - Alzheimers Disease

In recent months, Douglas County organizations that serve seniors and their families have seen a sharp rise in the number of cases of Alzheimers Disease.

To help the many people who have to cope with this illness, the library has pulled together several fact sheets, articles, bibliographies, and other informational material. All of these are available at the Philip S. Miller Library, or by fax to any of our other branches.

#What is Alzheimers Disease (AD)?# It's a progressive, degenerative disease that attacks the brain and results in impaired memory, thinking and behavior. It is also the 4th leading cause in death in adults (after heart disease, cancer, and stroke). More than 100,000 people die of Alzheimers annually. One out of three of us will face this disease in an older relative.

#How does AD differ from normal aging?#

Here are some comparisons:

Normal: You forget PARTS of an experience. AD: You forget the entire experience. Normal: You forget events from long ago. AD: You forget what happened a few minutes ago. Normal: You forget a person's name but the face is familiar. AD: You forget not only the name, but the person. Normal: You may need to have directions repeated. AD: You start in the general direction and are likely to lose your purpose. Normal: You're able to self-orient: you can awake in a strange place and be able to gather clues to identify where you are. AD: You lose the capacity to search and use clues to help orient yourself. Normal: You lose your keys and retrace your steps. AD: You can't remember the last time you had your keys.

As one person put it, "The normal adult forgets, remembers that she forgot, and later may remember what she forgot. An AD patient forgets, forgets that she has forgotten, and couldn't care less five seconds later."

There's no single test for AD. Often, memory loss may be caused by something else. But when everything else is ruled out, AD may be diagnosed. But again, AD isn't just normal aging: there are real, pronounced changes in the brain itself.

Caring for an AD patient is demanding. Among the symptoms are hallucinations and delusions, "catastrophic reactions" or lashing out, and "sundowning" -- the tendency of many AD patients to become extremely restless just after dark.

However, for every kind of behavior, there is a coping behavior even when there isn't a cure.

For instance, don't try to talk the AD patient out of a delusion. Instead, be reassuring: say, "I'm here. I'll stay with you." Validate their fears: "That must be really scary." When a patient overreacts, try to distract him with something new. To deal with sundowning, offer sensory stimulation: a doll, stuffed animal, a ball; use soothing music.

There are other troublesome areas of caring for an AD patient. Human beings are sexual creatures. This persists even when patients are so mentally damaged that they no longer understand what is appropriate.

Among our information is some frank talk about how to deal with masturbation, unwelcome sexual attentions, and the sexual and social needs of the caregiver.

The greatest trap in caring for an AD patient is inappropriate expectations. We think they "should know better," "they meant to do that." But the truth is, they don't and they didn't.

While no cure has yet been found for Alzheimers, there is encouraging new research that points the way, perhaps, toward prevention and treatment.

Meanwhile, any family dealing with this difficult, exhausting, and often heart-rending illness should read up on it. Again, all of the information contained in this article, and much more, can be found at the library.

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