Finger on the pulse; Alzheimer's: the carer's plight

Being told that your partner or parent has Alzheimer's disease is devastating. It's a very unusual person who, faced with this news, doesn't feel a huge sense of fear, loss, disbelief, ignorance and sometimes even anger.

One of the most upsetting aspects of the disease is the fact that it can only be diagnosed when the problem is well established, because the diagnosis is one of exclusion. There's no definite test and, at present, there's no method of screening to identify potential sufferers.

So what should you look for? It starts when the man, or woman, you have known so well changes in ways you cannot pinpoint. He may have become forgetful, suddenly neglecting to feed the cat or turn off the television, things he has been doing every night for 20 years. Maybe he's started asking the same questions over and over again, when you've only just given him the answer.

He may have become jealous, constantly asking you where you're going and what you're doing, even when you are just leaving the room for a minute. He may make up stories to cover up his memory loss. It's patchy. There are good and bad days. On the good days you can almost forget there's a problem.

I saw a patient recently whose husband has Alzheimer's. Unsurprisingly, she was having great difficulty coming to terms with this. But what she found even worse was his accusing her of having an affair. Nothing could have been further from the truth, but now, I think she secretly wishes that she had had an affair. Her future looks bleak - her plans for retirement have been frozen.

As a carer, you have to find the patience to cope with someone who has become irritable with you when you haven't done anything wrong, and be able to pacify him when he becomes frustrated with himself.

Sometimes, diagnosis is delayed because the sufferer's partner does not want to admit that there is something really wrong. Feelings of shame or guilt can delay the carer coming forward. How will others deal with you and your partner? You're not widowed, but you can't join in as a couple any more. Will you still have a social life when you can't even leave him for an hour, in case he sets fire to the sofa with his cigarette?

Establishing support for the carer is essential because many sink rather than swim. A study last year showed that of 700 carers who were looking after demented patients, a staggering 47 per cent were clinically depressed - in other words, they needed some sort of treatment themselves.

The first drug for the treatment of Alzheimer's , Donepezil hydrochloride, was recently licensed in the UK and there are more to follow. It has been indicated for the early treatment of the disease, when there are still nerve cells functioning. It may slow down the process, but it isn't a cure and it won't reverse the damage already done. So, if we give it to someone with moderate symptoms, we may prolong the time the carer has to cope with the sufferer at home, which could be unhelpful.

Alzheimer's affects one in a thousand people under the age of 65, and four to five per cent over this age. That means a lot of carers are hoping for a miracle. For now, Donepezil hydrochloride treatment is relatively untried and we still need to rely on the support services to help carers. With drugs of this type, the carer may have to accept an increased quantity of time with the patient rather than a improved quality of life.

News
peopleHowards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, was 60
Sport
Romelu Lukaku puts pen to paper
sport
News
Robyn Lawley
people
Arts and Entertainment
Unhappy days: Resistance spy turned Nobel prize winner Samuel Beckett
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
News
people
Life and Style
Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson voice the show’s heroes
gamingOnce stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover
News
i100
Life and Style
Phones will be able to monitor your health, from blood pressure to heart rate, and even book a doctor’s appointment for you
techCould our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?
News
people
Extras
indybest
Travel
Ryan taming: the Celtic Tiger carrier has been trying to improve its image
travelRyanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?
Sport
Usain Bolt confirms he will run in both the heats and the finals of the men's relay at the Commonwealth Games
commonwealth games
Life and Style
Slim pickings: Spanx premium denim collection
fashionBillionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers 'thigh-trimming construction'
News
Sabina Altynbekova has said she wants to be famous for playing volleyball, not her looks
people
News
i100
Life and Style
tech'World's first man-made leaves' could use photosynthesis to help astronauts breathe
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    SAP Project Manager

    competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

    SAP Project Manager

    competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

    Senior Investment Accounting Change Manager

    £600 - £700 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Investment Accounting Change...

    Microsoft Dynamics AX Functional Consultant

    £65000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: A rare opportun...

    Day In a Page

    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
    Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

    Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

    Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
    Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

    Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

    Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
    Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

    Spanx launches range of jeans

    The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
    10 best over-ear headphones

    Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

    Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
    Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

    Commonwealth Games

    David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

    Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star