What is Alzheimer's disease?
Alzheimer's disease (AD) is a slowly progressive disease of the brain that is characterized by impairment of memory and eventually by disturbances in reasoning, planning, language, and perception. Many scientists believe that Alzheimer's disease results from an increase in the production or accumulation of a specific protein (beta-amyloid protein) in the brain that leads to nerve cell death.
The likelihood of having Alzheimer's disease increases substantially after the age of 70 and may affect 38% of persons over the age of 85. Nonetheless, Alzheimer's disease is not a normal part of aging and is not something that inevitably happens in later life. For example, many people live to over 100 years of age and never develop Alzheimer's disease.
What's the difference between Alzheimer's disease and dementia?
Dementia is a syndrome characterized by:
- Impairment in memory,
- Impairment in another area of thinking such as the ability to organize thoughts and reason, the ability to use language, or the ability to see accurately the visual world (not because of eye disease), and
- These impairments are severe enough to cause a decline in the patient's usual level of functioning.
Although some kinds of memory loss are normal parts of aging, the changes due to aging are not severe enough to interfere with the level of function. Although many different diseases can cause dementia.
The Seven Stages of Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s disease develops gradually. The nerve damage it causes first affects learning and memory. Stages of the disease are as follows:
Stage-1: No Impairment - The individual does not experience any symptoms, and none can be assessed by a professional either.
Stage-2: Very Mild Impairment - The individual subjectively feels they forget words or common objects, but a professional cannot assess any impairment.
Stage-3: Mild Cognitive Decline -- A professional can diagnose early-stage Alzheimer’s in some individuals by stage 3. Friends and family will begin to notice deficiencies. Common problems include difficulty planning, remembering names of close friends and family, and reading with very little retention.
Stage-4: Moderate Cognitive Decline (Early-stage Alzheimer’s Disease) -- An expert will recognize clear deficiencies in several areas, including the ability to perform complex tasks like planning for dinner guests or paying bills.
Stage-5: Moderately Severe Cognitive Decline (Mid-stage Alzheimer’s Disease) -- At this stage, individuals will need help with day-to-day living as the disease creates major memory gaps. Simple arithmetic and choosing clothes may become difficult, for instance. However, they will usually know basically who they are, names of close relatives (spouse and children) and need no help eating or with the toilet.
Stage-6: Severe Cognitive Decline -- At this stage, mental difficulties continue to worsen. Individuals at stage 6 will need help with the toilet, they often become suspicious of those who help them (they often forget their identities), and tend to wander from home and become lost.
Stage-7: Very Severe Cognitive Decline (Late-stage Alzheimer’s disease) -- This stage of Alzheimer’s disease deprives people of their ability to speak, respond to their environment and eventually all motor control. Individuals with late-stage Alzheimer’s need near-constant assistance for basic needs, including holding their heads up.
10 early signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s
- Memory loss that disrupts daily life.
- Challenges in planning and solving problems.
- Difficulty in completing familiar task.
- Confusion with time or place.
- Trouble in understanding visual images and spatial relationships.
- New problems with words in speaking or writing.
- Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps.
- Decreased or poor judgment.
- Withdrawal from work or social activities.
- Changes in mood and personality.
How Occupational Therapy Helps With Alzheimer’s?
One of the biggest challenges with caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease is managing day to day activities as the disease progresses. That’s where an occupational therapist can be an immense source of help.
Occupational therapists focus on working with you and your family to cope with the changes that the disease brings and make life as full as possible. Occupational therapy gives you and your parent or senior loved one support so that you don’t have to cope alone. Instead, you can rely on the help of an OT to help your loved one continue to enjoy and participate in life.
Read more about how occupational therapy can help your loved one with Alzheimer’s.
The Role of an Occupational Therapist
The American Occupational Therapy Association defines an occupational therapist (OT) as a professional that:
- Enables people to live life to its fullest
- Helps people to do the things they need and want to do
- Provides therapy for the activities of daily living (ADLs)
ADLs can include:
- Making food
- Managing your finances
An OT works to set up a living environment, so a parent or senior loved one can function better. They also help with adjusting ADLs to make them easier for both you and your loved one.
3 Ways Occupational Therapy Can Help People With Alzheimer’s
Improving function and safety
- Having to move out of their home
- Not being able to take care of themselves
- Quicker decline
OTs will work with the family members and the person with the disease to assess the home environment and home safety. An OT makes recommendations for what needs to change to keep the person safe as well as what equipment can be used for daily activities to reduce the chance of injury. OTs also provide guidance on how to make daily activities easier.
An OT may recommend routine exercises that help to maintain mobility as well as to build up:
- Range of motion
This helps to prolong your loved one’s independence.
Promoting relationships and social participation
OTs can provide help with:
- Frequent outbursts
- How to respond to the underlying emotion
- Trouble communicating
Your loved one may also benefit from opportunities to do tasks that are fulfilling. An OT can help you to find and set up familiar and simple tasks such as laundry folding, simple puzzles and sorting objects.
Providing education and support to Alzheimer’s caregivers
You might benefit from learning techniques that make it easier to assist your loved one with daily activities. An OT can give you guidance on how to:
- Break down tasks to be more manageable
- Provide instructions that are easy to understand
- Reduce distractions
- Use visual cues
The role of the family in caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s can be constant and overwhelming. Occupational therapy focuses on relieving the caregiving burden by promoting independence.
A study recently found that 10 sessions of occupational therapy over five weeks significantly improved motor functioning and slowed the loss of independence in daily activities. Caregivers reported that their loved one’s daily functioning was better even up to three months after the therapy ended.
Occupational therapy gives you and your parent or senior loved one support so that you don’t have to cope alone. Instead, you can rely on the help of an OT to help your loved one continue to enjoy and participate in life.