That Awful Wasteland of Alzheimer’s

alzheim

What is Alzheimer’s disease (AD)?

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is an irreversible, progressive brain disease that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills and, eventually, the ability to carry out the simplest tasks of daily living. In most people with AD, symptoms first appear after age 60. AD is the most common cause of dementia among older people, but it is not a normal part of aging. Dementia refers to a decline in cognitive function that interferes with daily life and activities.

AD starts in a region of the brain that affects recent memory, then gradually spreads to other parts of the brain. Although treatment can slow the progression of AD and help manage its symptoms in some people, currently there is no cure for this devastating disease. AD is named after Dr. Alois Alzheimer, a German doctor. In 1906, Dr. Alzheimer described changes in the brain tissue of a woman who had died of an unusual mental illness. He found abnormal clumps (now called amyloid plaques) and tangled bundles of fibers (now called neurofibrillary tangles). alzheimers-brain

Today, these plaques and tangles in the brain are considered hallmarks of AD. The third main feature of AD is the gradual loss of connections between nerve cells (neurons) in the brain. This loss leads to diminished cell function and cell death. We don’t know what starts the AD process, but we do know that damage to the brain begins as many as 10 to 20 years before any obvious signs of forgetfulness appear. As nerve cells die throughout the brain, affected regions begin to shrink. By the final stage of AD, damage is widespread, and brain tissue has shrunk significantly.

How many Americans have AD?

According to recent estimates, as many as 2.4 million to 4.5 million Americans have AD. Unless the disease can be effectively treated or prevented, the number of people with AD will increase significantly if current population trends continue. That’s because the risk of AD increases with age, and the U.S. population is aging. The number of people age 65 and older is expected to grow from 39 million in 2008 to 72 million in 2030, and the number of people with AD doubles for every 5-year interval beyond age 65. In the years to come, AD is expected to pose physical and emotional challenges for more and more families and other caregivers, in addition to those with the disease. The growing number of people with AD and the costs associated with the disease also will put a heavy economic burden on society.

How long can a person live with AD?

AD is a slow disease that starts with mild memory problems and ends with severe brain damage. The time from diagnosis to death varies—as little as 3 or 4 years if the person is older than 80 when diagnosed to as long as 10 or more years if the person is younger. Other factors that affect how long a person will live with AD include the person’s sex, the presence of other health problems, and the severity of cognitive problems at diagnosis.

What is dementia?

Dementia is a general term that refers to a decline in cognitive function so extensive that it interferes with daily life and activities. This loss in the ability to think, remember, and reason is not a disease itself, but a group of symptoms that often accompanies a disease or condition. Many conditions and diseases cause dementia. Two of the most common causes of dementia in older people are AD and vascular dementia, which is caused by a series of strokes or changes in the brain’s blood supply. Other conditions that cause memory loss or dementia include:

•medication side effects

•chronic alcoholism

•certain tumors and infections in the brain

•blood clots in the brain

•vitamin B12 deficiency

•dehydration

•high fever

•some thyroid, kidney, or liver disorders

Many of these conditions are temporary and reversible, but they can be serious and should be treated by a doctor as soon as possible. Emotional problems, such as stress, anxiety, or depression, can make a person more forgetful and can be mistaken for dementia. Someone may feel sad, lonely, worried, or bored when facing retirement or coping with the death of a spouse, relative, or friend. Adapting to these changes leaves some people feeling confused or forgetful. Supportive friends and family or professional help from a doctor or counselor can help older adults adjust to big changes.

Source: National Institute of Aging, http://www.nia.nih.gov/

The Fellowship of the Saints

The fellowship of the saints

The following is Psalm 16:3 in several different versions.  They differ from each other but all express the same fundamental thought.  The variation is refreshing and allows for a stronger development of thought.

 3 As for the saints who are on the earth,
“They are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight.” (NKJV)  

 

3As for the saints who are in the earth,
They are the majestic ones in whom is all my delight. (NASB)

 

3 The godly people in the land
are my true heroes!  I take pleasure in them! (NLT)
_______________________

No matter how we look at it, the Psalmist knows the value of other believers.  He exults in their companionship and rejoices in their presence in his life.  He knows that they have an excellence in them and about them.  He savours all contact with them.

We could say the psalmist has struck gold.  Whenever he has contact with them, good things start to happen.  A joy is awakened in him and bubbles to the surface. ( This Psalm 16 should be read in its entirety, I am only pulling out a single verse because of the light within it.)

Friendship, or companionship is a critical necessity for us, especially when the momentum of our culture is towards isolation.  I’ve been told of a certain kind of rock will begin to resonate, becoming warm in the presence of a rock of the same type.  (IDK if this is true but it is a great story).

I need brothers and sisters to awaken me.  As a man who struggles with physical and mental illness that connection brings me healing and wholeness.  I in turn through this same connection transmit grace and wisdom to them (or whatever).

There is not a lot of things better, and more invigorating than coffee with a Christian friend.  In heaven, there will be a Starbucks on every other corner serving up Vanilla Lattes for disciples wanting to visit and share their hearts (that is my personal theory anyway.)

The Psalmist puts our relationships into the light and evaluates them by the encouragement they bring.  We need to have that awareness as we contact each other.  As a “closet-hermit” I need that extra push.  I would anticipate or even expect it. 

The Holy Spirit works in the specific area of relationships.  That is His strength and forte’.  I believe that the way the Kingdom of God works, flows and advances is in large part because of godly relationships.  The more we cultivate them, the more the Church grows.

Caregivers: Improving Your Serve

serving-hands

One of the weightiest issues of caring for a mentally ill spouse, child, or friend, is that it is so phenomenally relentless.  The disease is so unpredictable, in its intensity and its spontaneity.  You think you have the situation in hand, and it breaks out somewhere else, and often in public and causing major problems.  This is wearing on anyone, including the Christian believer. And sometimes that can even make it more challenging.

You will need a support network, if you’re going to be a caregiver.  This support is received in three different ways.

First, emotional support.  Without someone who can listen and give words that encourage you, you’ll grow in resentment and frustration with your particular “lot”.

Second, I would suggest physical support.  You will need someone to help you make sure the practical issues are met.  (washing the car, fixing the shower, etc.) My wife as a caregiver has had to do things that she would normally wouldn’t be called on to do (fix the stove, do the taxes, etc.) because of my illness.

Third, spiritual support.  It has three concentrations. Worship, prayer, and fellowship.  These three have obvious effects on the caregiver.  Just a word to the wise–when you pray you are going into it as two people (as well as for yourself).  You must maintain and strengthen yourself and for the person you are serving.  I think this is critical to your relationship.  Try to see challenges, not obstacles. Don’t forget the power of a worshipping heart or the warmness of good Christian fellowship.

God gives special grace to the caretaker.  My advice is to take it, and then use it.  Draw upon Jesus who is your caregiver.  Present your afflicted one to Him.  Be supernatural in the mundane.  The story of the paralyzed man on his cot being brought into Jesus’ presence by his friends fascinates me.  It has many parallels for you to be a good caregiver.

“And behold, some men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they were seeking to bring him in and lay him before Jesus,”

Luke 5:18, ESV

My last word of advice is that you don’t be self-critical or feel guilty.  Remember, it is your friend or family member who is the sick one.  Don’t get consumed by your responsibilities.  Don’t fall in the trap of judging yourself by how well you do or don’t do as a caregiver.  Remember, you are not performing for others, but for an audience of One, who sees all.

Educate yourself, use the internet to track down information.  If I can help you further, please feel free to contact me.  I’m not a rocket scientist but if I can encourage you I will.   May the Holy Spirit touch your heart. You are going to need it.

 

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