World Alzheimer’s Day is held on September 21 annually to raise global awareness of the disease and challenge the common stigma that surrounds it. Homage Care Professional Suguna Nair shares her experiences and tips to care for Alzheimer’s patients.
Breaking the stigma and sharing the stress
World Alzheimer’s Day, celebrated every September 21 is dedicated to raising awareness globally to educate people and challenge the common stigma that surrounds Alzheimer, related to dementia. According to Alzheimer’s Disease Foundation Malaysia in 2015, it is estimated that currently there are about 123,000 Malaysians living with dementia.
In a press statement released by nursing care service Homage, given the severity of this condition, it is surprising to know that most people in Malaysia perceive Alzheimer or dementia as a normal part of ageing and thus do not seek medical advice or get diagnosed.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), dementia is the deterioration in cognitive function beyond the expectation from normal ageing.
It affects memory, thinking, orientation, comprehension, calculation, learning capacity, language, and judgement.
Among the causes of dementia is the Alzheimer’s disease. Named after Dr Alois Alzheimer in 1906, he described the disease when he noticed the brain tissue of a deceased woman after her unusual mental illness episodes.
The disease is a common form of dementia that generalises memory loss and loss of other essential cognitive abilities that are serious enough to interfere with an individual’s daily life.
Homage’s care professional, Suguna Nair explained to New Sarawak Tribune that one of the common symptoms she had seen in Alzheimer’s patients was the inability to recall dates or recent events, “they also kept on forgetting names, will ask the same questions several times. And this progresses to needing family members to remind them or placing sticky notes to guide them through their daily routine.”
With 15 years of nursing experience, Suguna also shared that other symptom that caregivers can look out for is the patients’ difficulty to complete familiar tasks such as driving to a familiar location or completing simple calculations.
“Individuals with Alzheimer’s tend to lose track of days and time. Often, they would forget how they got to a place, forgetting a conversation that just happened, or even the route back to their home.”
Aside from that, patients with the disease can find it a challenge to speak or write, and they would get lost during a conversation. “They would stop in the middle of a conversation, not knowing how to continue with a tendency to repeat the same sentence.”
As a nurse, Suguna realised that caring for patients with Alzheimer’s can be challenging. Despite reading about the disease, and having herself mentally prepared to care, she admitted that there are good days and bad days. “It really depends on their mood.”
“I realised that individuals with dementia are just like you and me. However, verbal communication can be a challenge due to the progression of the condition. With this, their mode of communication changes,” Suguna said.
The 38-year-old elaborated that patients diagnosed with the disease will communicate according to their convenience. “Such as tapping the table, giving voice cues when the bathwater temperature is cold or warm, and they are easily agitated.”
Nonetheless, with numerous experiences with Alzheimer’s patients, she had learned to look out for certain signs and signals of when they are in pain or feeling uncomfortable and when they are in a good mood or feel calm.
Knowing the struggles to care for patients, Suguna advise caregivers to never be afraid of asking for help. “We need to break the stigma and share the stress without having the fear of being judged.”
According to her, caregivers are often intertwined with the fear of asking for help as they felt like it is a sign of weakness. “But, knowing when to ask for help is not a sign of weakness as caring for others starts with caring for yourself.”
“It shows you acknowledge what is beyond your capabilities and ultimately want the best for your loved ones,” added Suguna.
A guide to care for patients with Alzheimer’s disease at home by Suguna Nair
- Have a list of important or emergency phone numbers placed near all telephone devices.
- Store sharp kitchen objects, tools, cleaning supplies securely.
- Remove locks from rooms to minimise the risk of getting locked in a room or bathroom.
- Remove excessive objects in the bedroom such as loose mat, small stools, toys, extension cords, or electrical appliances cords as these can be hazardous and increase the risk of falls.
- Add lightings at the top and bottom of the staircase, bedroom, and bathrooms. Keep the lights on in the bathroom at night.
- Consider putting on a medical bracelet or necklace with their name, address, and family contact number if their loved ones tend to leave the house.
- Play some relaxing music or their favourite music ease their mind.
- Go for small walks with them or participate in their favourite activities, such as gardening, board games, simple physical exercises to promote muscle tone and elevate their mood.