Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive, degenerative disease affecting the brain. It mainly occurs in older people and can cause great distress and upset to the sufferer themselves and their friends and family. There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease but there is plenty of support and assistance available to those that seek it.
The disease is progressive which means that the symptoms will alter over time and will generally get worse. Several changes occur within the brain tissue, altering the way that the affected person thinks and relates to the world around them. Alzheimer’s disease is still not completed understood and many research projects are underway to try to uncover why some people develop it and some people do not. Clinical trails are being performed on new drugs to help with this debilitating condition.
It generally starts over 40 and it is the initial stages, before a diagnosis is made, that can be the most confusing and distressing period of the disease.
The various stages of the disease
Doctors often refer to three distinct stages of Alzheimer’s disease, although the progression of the disease will be unique to every individual. The stages are:
- Stage I: This may be characterised by forgetfulness, mood swings, and some people develop speech problems.
- Stage II: This is the stage when the typical changes in short term memory occur. These are the symptoms that we all associate with Alzheimer’s disease and is very upsetting for the whole family. Speech and language deteriorate further at this stage and so communication becomes a real issue. It is at this stage that the sufferer may first fail to cope with every day tasks and may clearly be in need of some assistance.
- Stage III: Whilst patients in this stage may retain their emotional memory other functions continue to deteriorate. Their moods can become very unpredictable which makes caring for them a challenge. This is compounded by a further deterioration in communication which started in Stage II. Speech can become very difficult at this stage. Physical changes can also occur. Patients can become incontinent as they lose bowel and bladder control and they may find swallowing difficult which raises nutrition and hydration challenges.
Possible early warning signs
We all forget things, become a little clumsy and suffer from bad moods at times. This should not always be a cause for concern and is simply a part of every day life. However, if you have noticed that your loved one is showing any of the following symptoms over an extended period and they are causing you some concern then you should always get them checked out by your doctor, including:
- repeating the same thing many times over
- forgetting where they have placed objects
- struggling with normal every day activities that they used to perform easily
- becoming unaware of what day of the week it is
- being unable to remember areas of their own house
- being unable to recognise friends and family.
Sadly, as in many progressive diseases, the eventual outcome in Alzheimer’s is death and this generally occurs around 4 to 10 years after the symptoms start. There is no magic cure for Alzheimer’s but doctors are continually developing interventions which can help the sufferer cope with the effects of the disease.
The role of physiotherapy in Alzheimer’s disease
Physiotherapy is a branch of therapeutic medicine that uses physical therapy and exercise to control the symptoms of many chronic and progressive diseases. Results are often best if therapy is started sooner rather than later, hence it is always a good thing to recognise symptoms early and get the help that is needed.
It is important to note that physiotherapy cannot cure the disease but may be able to slow its progress and help the sufferer to cope a little better.
Physiotherapists work with the patient to retain good posture and preserve mobility for as long as possible. This helps the sufferer’s emotional well being as they remain independent for longer and tend to feel less depressed. It also maintains their physical functions which helps them to lead a more normal life for a longer period of time. Family relationships can be maintained and the impact of the disease lessened.