dcsimg

Allied Health Professionals Make a Difference for Alzheimer's Patients

November is National Alzheimer's Disease Awareness Month, a time to not only spotlight the ongoing research into this heartbreaking disease, but also to honor the more than 15 million people who provide care, love and support to those who suffer Alzheimer's. Many of those caregivers are backed up by an excellent team of allied health professionals, all of whom focus on providing the best quality of life for those with Alzheimer's.

Allied Health

What is Alzheimer's?

Alzheimer's is a progressive form of dementia that leads to problems with thinking, memory and behavior. It accounts for 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases, according to the Alzheimer's Association. The sixth leading cause of death in the United States, Alzheimer's is not just a disease of old age -- up to 5 percent of those who are diagnosed are in their 40's and 50's. There are treatment for the symptoms of Alzheimer's, but there is no cure.

Alzheimer's typically begins with with a difficulty in retaining newly learned information, as the disease attacks the learning centers of the brain. The condition gradually worsens, leading to mood and behavior changes, as well as disorientation. Sufferers may experience profound confusion about events, place and time, and might have unfounded suspicions about their loved ones or caregivers. In the advanced stages of the disease, memory loss is significant and there can be severe behavioral changes, as well as difficulty in speaking, swallowing and walking.

Those who have dementia often don't notice the symptoms themselves; it is much more likely to be spotted by a friend or family member. It is very important to get to the doctor immediately if any form of dementia is suspected, as quick intervention can help improve quality of life.

Allied health professionals instrumental in treatment of Alzheimer's

Those with Alzheimer's and their loved ones face an ongoing struggle to cope with the progressive changes in thinking, memory, mood and behavior, as well as the emotional, mental and physical toll that accompanies the disease. A team of health professionals who are well-versed in the issues of Alzheimer's is essential to ensuring the best quality of life possible for the Alzheimer's patient and their families. Here are a few allied health professionals who make a difference:

  • Certified nursing assistants. Those with Alzheimer's frequently struggle with day-to-day living, and eventually need round-the-clock assistance. Certified nursing assistants might work in home health care, helping Alzheimer's patients stay at home as long as possible, while others might work in nursing homes, where they care for those who can no longer live independently.
  • Health information specialists. Patients with any type of memory loss or dementia can have trouble remembering their medications and what medical procedures they have undergone. That's why meticulous medical records are so important. Medical billing and coding specialists can help solve insurance issues, while medical transcriptionists can ensure records are accurate.
  • MRI technicians. Alzheimer's causes major changes to the brain over time, and tracking those changes is necessary to help ensure the best care possible. Magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, is often used to keep up with the changes. MRI technicians prepare patients for testing, help ensure their comfort, and take the images that doctors use to determine the next course of treatment.
  • Social workers. Known as the "long goodbye," Alzheimer's takes a heavy toll on family, friends, and those who care about the patient. Social workers can help them cope with the changes in their loved one, including finding counseling, support groups, resources, and other assistance.
  • Nutritionist. Those with Alzheimer's often have trouble remembering when they last ate. In later stages they might have trouble with swallowing, which presents a huge list of challenges for nutrition. A nutritionist can make sure that patients at every stage of the disease are getting all the nutrients they need to stay as healthy as possible.

Gerontologists aim to help those with Alzheimer's

Gerontology is a field dedicated to the science of aging. Gerontologists study various factors that contribute to senior health, including race, gender and economic status, among others. They understand how our bodies age, what patients can expect as they grow older, and the research that shows promise in improving the lives of seniors. With an expected population of more than 72 million seniors by 2030, the medical profession will see an increased need for gerontologists to help navigate the murky waters of aging.

Those who hold a degree in gerontology might work in many various health care positions, including those that cater to patients with dementia or Alzheimer's. They might work as managers of assisted living facilities, case managers, mental health counselors who focus on issues of aging, or wellness directors. Some might choose to further their education with a graduate degree, and then move into research, policy-making positions, teaching or non-profit organizations that focus on help for the elderly.

Whether they turn to a home health care aide or nurse, social worker or MRI technician, assisted living specialist or health information manager, patients with Alzheimer's have a wealth of healthcare professionals ready to assist them with their needs. Allied health professionals can also be a comfort to the friends, family and caregivers of those who suffer from the disease. These health care careers will be on the front line of care and comfort until the day a cure is found.

Sources:

Honor a Caregiver Today, Alzheimer's Association, Alzheimer's and Dementia Caregiver Center, Accessed November 11, 2014, http://www.alz.org/care/honor-caregiver.asp

What Is Alzheimer's?, Alzheimer's Association, Accessed November 11, 2014, http://www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_what_is_alzheimers.asp

About the Author: