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Mental Health and Alzheimer’s National Awareness

by Jessica B. November 27th, 2013 | Health Observance, Mental Health
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old ladyIt is Alzheimer’s National Awareness Month and an important time to increase awareness about one of the most debilitating mental health illnesses that can strike the elderly. Almost three fourths of dementia cases are caused by Alzheimer’s disease – a neurodegenerative disease that wreaks havoc on the brain and leaves the sufferer a shell of their former self.

How does Alzheimer’s affect mental health? – Alzheimer’s can have many different affects on the average person’s ability, some cases move faster than others. It attacks memory, language and thought processes, making a variety of actions difficult. Things as simple as putting on deodorant in the morning, or shaving, become complex rituals that can no longer be mastered. As the disease progresses, patients lose the ability to understand others, recognize loved ones, and even to swallow food.

What happens to the brain? Alzheimer’s attacks the brain and actually shrinks it. There are billions of neurons that the brain uses to communicate that become damaged. Plaque builds up and affects learning centers and short-term memory. Eventually there is considerable brain cell death and neurotransmitters can no longer communicate their information properly.

Treatment – Right now there is very little that can be done to slow down or prevent the spread of Alzheimer’ s disease. It is a disease that will affect the patient’s mental health in 100% of cases in a way that is irreparable.

Mental health of careers and family members – If there is anything we should be more aware of, during Alzheimer’s National Awareness Month, is the mental health of those who care for Alzheimer’s patients and their loved ones and families. It can be debilitating to watch your life partner lose the memories that you hold so dear. It can be extremely difficult to cope with caring for someone who once was such a close companion.

If you know someone caring or dealing with this illness within their family, think about reaching out to that person and make sure that THEY are also getting the care and attention they need. This may mean joining a support group, working with mental health professionals, or simply giving them a break from care giving and helping them out with some mundane tasks. Remind them that you remember their loved one as the person they remember them as, rather than simply a patient. Listen to their memories with interest if they feel the need to share.

Remember that Alzheimer’s awareness means increasing awareness not just for patients grappling with the disease, but also for their entire family’s struggle.

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All health and medical information is provided for educational purposes and is not meant to replace the medical advice or treatment of your healthcare professional.