Nursing Care and Understanding
of Alzheimer Disease
Loss of memory, forgetfulness, personal change, even death, are common related disorders caused by a disease called Dementia or better known to most people as Alzheimer’s disease. This disease is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States in persons 65 and older. Alzheimer’s disease is, named for the German neurologist Alois Alzheimer, who first recognized the disease in 1907; Alzheimer’s disease is characterized by a progressive deterioration of mental functioning. Nursing plays a major role in the care for patients who have Alzheimer’s disease during the three stages of the disease. The majority of Alzheimer’s patients are cared for at home by nursing caregivers or in a nursing home facility.
Impact on Today’s World
Of the many illnesses know today, Alzheimer’s has an effect not only on the patient but on the caregiver or nurse as well. Many journal articles, papers, and books discuss the impact on the role of the nurse and the Alzheimer’s patient. These articles show that over time the impact of this disease puts the nurse out of his or her homeostasis. Through the process of the disease the ability to control and maintain ones self stability is somewhat overwhelming and can lead to depression of the nurse caring for the patient in most cases. Depression and frustration usually comes from the fact that the Alzheimer’s patient’s mental and physical health is gradually dwindling away, and the caregiver or nurse feels helpless. This helplessness comes from the fact that the nurse or caregiver is showing care, compassion, and using all the knowledge he or she has, yet the nurse sees little to no progress in the person because the disease process is taking over. “One caregiver described the disease as being a long journey in which the undeniable end is death, no fixed route, and no estimated time of departure” (Morton, 2003 p.262).
Nursing is the art of caring. Nursing is a profession because it requires an education in order to give the patient the care he or she needs. Nursing is giving of your self to help others in need of care. In nursing you are always learning, and through education you enhance your abilities to give the highest quality of care. Nursing education enhances the nurse’s intellectual and personal qualities to be the best she or he can be.
Nursing is the concept of adaptation, self actualization, knowledge, and the ability to use and demonstrate these ideals in every situation. Holistic nursing is the idea that you understand and perceive the patient’s state of health. Alzheimer’s disease puts the nurse in a situation that in reality he or she has no idea what it is like to actually understand what the patient is going through. Through the process of this disease the nurse must overcome their own emotions and realize that they are there for one reason. This one reason is simply to care for the patient. The patient over time will change mentally, emotionally, and physically which will not only challenge the nurse and their ability to understand and care for the patient, but these factors will also affect the family of the patient. The family must also know that the patient needs nursing and loving care; sometimes a gentle touch from a loved one helps the patient to be reassured.
Summary of Research Findings
The average life span of a person getting Alzheimer’s is between the ages of 45 and 60. Millions of people are plagued by this heartbreaking disease. Although heredity does not play an obvious role, if one’s parents have it, there is a great chance of the disease appearing in the child during their elderly years. The risk for getting the disease increases with age and is seen more commonly in elderly females. There are a number of theories for the actual cause of Alzheimer’s disease, but at this time its causes and cure are still being researched. Alzheimer’s disease has been classified as an organic disorder, which is also known as a brain impairment of the elderly. It is not to be confused with a functional disorder which no physical cause has been found and its origin appears to be emotional. The organic disorder clearly has a physical basis (Harris 1990). Early detection of Alzheimer’s disease is a commonly overlooked as just depression. Depression is natural for people who have memory loss, poor judgment, or misplacing items. Depression is the earliest sign of Alzheimer’s disease, but depression could also be a sign of a person getting older and not being able to do the activities they were able to do when they were young. When the depression becomes apparent when there is memory loss, disorientation, poor judgment, and misplacing of items is when a person should really be concerned with whether or not they have Alzheimer’s disease:
AD is a common affliction of old age and accounts for approximately two thirds of the 5 to 6 million late-life dementias. Memory impairment is generally a prominent early symptom. AD proceeds in stages over months and years and gradually destroys a person’s memory, reason, judgment, and language, and eventually the ability to carry out simple tasks of daily life. (Smith, 2002 p.77)
In today’s society the need for a cure or medicine to suppress the disorder is
growing, because the numbers of elderly are on the rise in increasingly large numbers in the United States. Some factors that have been linked as causes for Alzheimer’s are hypertension, peripheral vascular disease, delirium associated with a stroke and epileptic seizures. Scientists continue to research for treatments to slow the progress of Alzheimer’s disease and to hold the disease off as long as possible. “If you could delay the onset of symptoms by five years, the total number of new cases projected into the future would be cut in half,” says Steven Ferris, Ph.D., director of the Alzheimer’s disease Center at the New York University School of Medicine (Bren, 19). Taking that in to consideration, new drugs are being made that have been shown to slow the advanced Alzheimer’s disease process down. The drug is called Memantine and has demonstrated that it will have an impact on this disease. At this time there is no other treatment for the advanced stage of the disease (Reisburg, 2002).
Recommendations for learning how to cope with the stress should be accentuated during the process of nursing school. A nursing student should be taught to be capable of separating work from their personal life. The nurse must learn how not to carry the burden of death and the realization that the patient will not be able to be cured of this disease for the fact that Alzheimer’s disease today is incurable. The nurse should also take in consideration the cultural differences of all people. These variations of ideals among different cultures vary in the aspect of how they value health, death, and their spiritual beliefs. To help the nurse cope, deal with, and understand this disease and other terminal diseases, there should be a course for learning how to deal with stress and anxiety caused by dealing with these patients in the workplace. Another frequent intervention should always be offered to caregivers is support groups because, “Support groups can provide nurses or caregivers with up to date knowledge and resources, reduce caregiver isolation, and expand social networks” (Adams, Nichols, Burns, ; Malone, 2002 p.182). Support groups have been shown to reduce stress greatly, increase well being, improve self burden and increase the ability to cope with further situations that may arise.
This paper emphasizes the importance of the affects on the patient, nurse, and family during the process of Alzheimer’s disease. The disease affects all people involved in caring, loving, helping, and understanding the patient. The nurses caring for these patients with Alzheimer’s must simply be to cope with the fact that the patient is incurable and not responsible for his actions or emotions. People today and in the future generations look toward great medical miracles along with an increased life expectancy but with all great achievements their will be failure and success. Point being for every cure or medicine there will always be the need for nursing and the loving care that goes along with it.
Bren L. (2003 Jul-Aug). “Alzheimer’s: searching for a cure”. FDA Consumer. 37(4):18-25.
Harris, D. (1990). Sociology of Aging. New York, NY. Harper ; Row Press.
Martindale-Adams, J., Nichols, L., Burns, B., ; Malone, C. (2002). Telephone supportgroups: A lifeline for isolated Alzheimers Disease caregivers. Alzheimer’s Care
Quarterly 2002, 3(2), 181-189.
Morton, L. (2003). Psychological journey of an Alzheimer’s caregiver. Alzheimer’s Care
Quarterly 2003, 4(4), 262-268.
Reisburg, B. & Harvey, R. (2002). Drug slows advanced Alzheimer’s disease.
New England Journal of Medicine, 348,1334.
Smith, G. B. (2002). Case management guideline: Alzheimer Disease and other
dementias. Nursing Case Management, 7(2), 77-84.