The Needs of Patients and Families with Alzheimer’s and other Dementias

By Kim Maryniak, PhD, RNC-NIC, NEA-BC

Alzheimer's and dementiaAlzheimer's disease (AD) is a progressive, degenerative disorder that attacks the brain's nerve cells, or neurons, resulting in loss of memory, thinking and language skills, and behavioral changes. AD is the most common cause of dementia, or loss of intellectual function, among people aged 65 and older (Alzheimer’s Association, 2018a; National Institutes of Health, 2017).

There are various types of dementia. These include:
  •   Alzheimer's disease (most common)
  •   Vascular dementia
  •   Lewy body dementia
  •   Frontotemporal disorders
  •   Mixed dementia

Dementia may also occur with cognitive changes associated with Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, multiple sclerosis, traumatic brain injury, Korsakoff syndrome, and other conditions.

When working with dementia patients, strategies should be individualized to the patient, based on psychosocial, spiritual, and cultural needs. The behaviors associated with the patient’s dementia also require the use of a variety of techniques. Strategies can be developed based on the type of impairment the patient is experiencing (AlzBrain.org, n.d.).

Family members may experience guilt and stress, particularly if they are unable to care for the patients themselves. They may not understand what is happening to the patient, may misinterpret the patient’s behaviors, and may be unsure of what to say or do with the patient. The uncertainties of family members can lead to deterioration in relationships, which negatively impacts the family and the patient. Staff can help maintain these relationships by providing the family with information about the disease process, giving reassurance, validation, and facilitating the communication between family members and the patient (Mendes, 2015).

The needs of patients with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia go beyond meeting their medical requirements. Psychosocial, activity, and dietary needs must also be addressed. Additionally, it is vital to prevent, recognize, and respond to abuse and neglect of patients with dementia, to promote patient safety. It is important to remember that each individual has unique wants and needs, and the focus must be on the person. Essential components of caring for dementia patients are respect, dignity, and quality of life. Holistic, person centered care takes time and effort, but is well worth it.

Alzheimer’s disease is just one of many forms of dementia. Moreover, there are disease processes that also impact a patient’s cognition. Developing a holistic, patient centered care plan provides the patient respect, dignity and increases quality of life.

For more information about dementia patients and families, refer to the RN.com course Alzheimer’s and other Related Dementias: Addressing Individual and Family Needs.

Alzheimer's Association. (2018a). 2018 Alzheimer’s disease facts and figures. Retrieved from: https://www.alz.org/media/HomeOffice/Facts%20and%20Figures/facts-and-figures.pdf

AlzBrain.org. (n.d.) Managing behavioral symptoms of residents with dementia in long-term care facilities. Retrieved from http://www.alzbrain.org/pdf/handouts/2009.%20behavior%20book.pdf

National Institutes of Health. (2017). The dementias: Hope through research. Retrieved from https://order.nia.nih.gov/sites/default/files/2018-01/the-dementias-hope-through-research.pdf

Mendes, A. (2015). Facilitating and supporting family relationships in dementia. Nursing & Residential Care, 17(3), 156-158.

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