Alzheimer – An Empathetic Perspective

There was a period in the evolution of science, where it was believed that our fate was inscribed in our genes. Then came a stage, where man discovered ‘epigenetics’, according to which genetic activities and behavioural traits could be controlled. It is believed that our perception of things reflects tremendously on our lives. What if this perception is impaired? The cells in our brain are like storehouses for data. They let us think, dream, desire, want and emote. The brain is to the body as a traffic controller is to a metropolitan city. What if these cells are slowly beginning to die? Our insight into epigenetics, as of today, is not deep enough to provide a possible cure for disorders like Alzheimer’s.

Our awareness of our surroundings and most importantly our awareness of ourselves is vital for our survival. What a person goes through when this very awareness is challenged is beyond what we can envisage. But the agony of seeing our loved ones suffer from a fatal brain disorder, knowing that they will never be the same again and that it will only deteriorate with time is beyond what words can describe. And a caregiver’s role can be very challenging, both emotionally and mentally.

A major lifestyle modification is required to take care of someone having problems with memory and judgement; in terms of social life, communication skills, home environment and coping with new demands each day. They cannot logically think in a given situation. The fear, confusion in performing day to day tasks, grief, paranoia, anxiety and aggressiveness makes them emotionally very fragile. Such extreme levels of patience as is required by a caregiver can only be fuelled by unconditional love.

The risks involved in having an Alzheimer’s patient at home are numerous. Patients suffering from this condition tend to wander, rummage through things, hallucinate and will have to repeatedly be told the same things time and again. This requires someone to keep watch round the clock. One should know where to look if the patient does manage to wander somewhere all by himself. Very high levels of safety must be maintained as they simply do not have the ability to get themselves out of danger or may not have the presence of mind to even call for help. Human contact, comforting words and motivation to have a positive mindset will definitely help alleviate the levels of anxiety.

When taking care of the patient at home becomes impossible, it is advisable that one resort to the assistance of health care centres. The concept of admitting the elderly to old age homes or care centres in not a very popular culture in eastern countries. I would say not yet, but times are definitely changing.  A vast majority of people still provide home care and stay with their parents right till the end. It is heartbreaking to hear them tell their children, ”If this happens to me when I age, if my brain were to slowly become a vegetable, admit me into a care centre, before I become a burden upon myself and you.”

Deepashri Vardarajan