Most people know that Alzheimer’s is a memory and mental illness. However, there are physical signs that point to the debilitating disease.
The cause of Alzheimer’s has not been found, although the experts do know that the part of the brain affected by the disease is the part that holds memories. A buildup of proteins or amyloids in the brain is the major contributing factor to this disease.
These proteins form plaques and tangles and then they eat the healthy cells in the brain’s memory center. As the patient ages and the illness progresses, these tangles take over the part of the brain that controls physical behaviors.
When an individual has Alzheimer’s, they will experience many different physical symptoms, sometimes before the mental changes take place. Each person that comes down with this disease is different and they experience the onset and continued decline in very dissimilar ways.
Some of the physical issues patients may experience include:
- Weak muscles
- Stiff muscles
- Trouble siting
- Trouble standing
- Loss of balance
- Loss of coordination
- Not knowing how much or how little to sleep
- Uncontrollable twitching
- Forgetting how to do regular, everyday activities like going to the bathroom, eating, brushing their hair, and so much more
If the person has not lost their ability to speak, they may not make sense most of the time. This is because the connection in the brain is not right. They may talk because they have a voice, but they will most likely not know what they are talking about.
This is when your patience is needed and appreciated.
Later on, another physical symptom may be that they do not remember how to chew their food or even swallow. This can be dangerous, and their food will need to be changed immediately.
Meals made of something soft, that requires no chewing, will now be the only foods they should be offered. It is important to add a vitamin supplement at this time to help them maintain strength and keep any healthy cells they still have.
Unfortunately, your loved one can no longer take care of themselves or be allowed to eat or do anything alone. Someone will always need to be with them so that they don’t hurt themselves or anyone else.
If they are going to stay in their home with a caregiver, or move in with you, you will have to completely reexamine the house. Look at the house as if they were a baby or toddler. If there is anything they can get into that is unsafe, get rid of it or change where the items are.
The Body Shuts Down
When the body declines in health, the risk for infection becomes higher. Many Alzheimer’s patients will experience pneumonia and die before they are completely overcome by the actual disease.
Additionally, more falls will be experienced because of the lack of coordination. Again, infection can set in near or on the broken bones.
Change in Bathroom Usage
Alzheimer’s will affect every part of the brain over time. Sometimes it is a short period of time, and other individuals take a long time to forget how to do things.
One of the first things that a person may forget how to do is use the bathroom. They may get upset, but when this happens, it is time to use adult diapers. This is for their protection and a way to help them control their hygiene.
Changed Sleeping Habits
Increased napping – A person suffering with Alzheimer’s may become confused and begin sleeping during the day. It is okay for them to take a nap, but not sleep the day away.
This might be difficult for you or their caregiver to keep them awake during the day, but it is important.
Insomnia – Since the will be attempting to sleep more during the day, the Alzheimer’s sufferer may not be able to sleep at night. This can be dangerous if they try to go outside, cook a meal, or attempt anything they don’t know how to do any longer and could hurt themselves or others.
Individuals with Alzheimer’s often have repetitive behaviors that are not under their control. These behaviors can be something large like walking around the house over and over again in the same pattern. Or it could be something small like wiping off their glasses over and over.
It is important for you as a caregiver to know they are not doing these behaviors on purpose to upset you. They actually have no control over what their mind is telling them to do. If the behavior is not harming them and really not that bothersome, allow them to continue unless it does become harmful. If they are constantly rubbing a spot on their pants, this is fine for a while, but eventually, their fingers will become sore.
Agitation and Mood Swings
The person with Alzheimer’s may become agitated easily as they can’t do what they used to do just a few weeks ago. This will cause their mood to become one of anger. As a caregiver, you will need to be patient and understanding with them. The person suffering does not comprehend what is happening to them and they won’t understand if you try to explain. That part of their brain, the reasoning part is not functioning properly and won’t ever again.
Near the end, it is important for their safety and yours, that they be admitted to a certified residential care facility. The nurses and administrators in these types of homes know how to care for Alzheimer’s patients with love and dignity.
It is noble that you would want to care for your loved one, but it is in their best interest to have them at a reputable and caring facility. Near the end, they are going to need more care than you are capable of giving, no matter how much you want to help them, there will come a point where you can no longer do a good job.