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Alzheimer’s Effect on the Family

October 19, 2012

Alzheimer’s has been shown to erode an individuals memory over time, making every day tasks like going to the grocery store for milk a difficult venture. Here I will go in to further detail on not only it’s effect on the individual but also their family and close friends. As with many other mental illnesses the individual diagnosed is not the only one who has to adjust their lives. I will examine four patient’s stories, as well as two caregivers points of view. Through this examination I will show how the family dynamic is changed as well as how Alzheimer’s changes the individuals mental health outside of the illness’s direct effect on memory loss.

Laura Mercer, a former journalist was diagnosed with a rare early onset of memory loss. She describes her first acknowledgement of the illness waking up one morning and not knowing who she or her husband Greg was. Not being able to remember who you are or what your current life consists of certainly makes every day faced in this manner incredibly difficult for both herself, but also her loved ones. Laura’s husband Greg has now taken the place of not only a partner but a caregiver, his responsibilities to remind her who she is as well as who he in relation to her have changed the dynamic of their relationship. Greg although quite positive about their situation has now had to make arrangements for his wife when they both know her days of maintaining a regular functioning life are over. To be the caregiver in this situation would be enormously difficult, especially when the patient has lost so much memory that on a regular basis they are incapable of connecting their own life to their own siblings, their husband and even their children. To the above people in their life it must be overwhelmingly difficult to try and help them remember or overcome that your mother may not ever remember you completely. On both sides the family has been forced to function differently, adjusting for the saddening fact that the patient will continuously become less capable to access their memories and perform basic tasks such as keeping track of finances, or driving.

Pat Van Dyke and Gwen Richards speak about the difficulty with others understanding their illness. Professional and even family and friendship networks as supportive as they can be, have difficulty understanding the changes. One very consistent effect of Alzheimer’s is having difficulty understanding lengthy fast paced conversations, something most people commonly have. It takes a lot of time to work as a team with these networks to come up with best practices for how to support the patients difficulty with things such as these every day conversations but still, as Gwen says it, support groups can be extremely helpful because you can be with other people who are in the same position as yourself and not just trying to accommodate your illness.

Each patient and couple had their own way of communicating with each other as well as their social network to best benefit the patient, but the fact remains that the change of mental health causes dramatic changes within a family; from roles within a marriage to a professional career, to who is in charge of finances – all must be adjusted. Lifestyle changes as intense as these are difficult to manage, however from the stories I pulled from each patient and caregiver was positive about accomplishing what they can and focusing on doing things that will help battle the illness as well as bring themselves a sense of achievement at the end of their day. Laura continues to work on her puzzles, George Roby carves birds from wood, and a common practice is making lists of things to perform and manage throughout the day that they can check off which helps them to be focused on their positive abilities.

-Sacha Ledor

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