A scripture to remember when a troubling disease such as Alzheimer’s affects you and your family: “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” (KJV)

According to The Alzheimer’s Association 2018, there are more than 5.7 million Americans living with the disease. There may be many more that are not reported.

Alzheimer’s slowly and irreversibly destroys memory and thinking skills. Dr. Alois Alzheimer made this discovery in 1906 when examining a woman who died of an unusual mental illness with symptoms of memory loss, language problems and unpredictable behavior. There also was shrinkage found in the brain.

Now, 126 years later, the cause of this disease, named after the man who first made those findings, is still not known. However, several factors may play a part. It is thought that genetic predisposition may be one reason; some researchers now believe a cluster of other diseases such as diabetes and heart disease also may be a contributing factor. They know for sure that it is not caused simply by old age, even though the possibility of developing Alzheimer’s doubles in each decade after the age of 65. The only good news about Alzheimer’s is it’s not contagious.

Dementia is a disorder of the mind affecting, perception, memory and judgment, characterized by reduced ability to remember, recognize familiar objects and sounds, etc. Age-related changes in the elderly are not necessarily dementia. They are facing up to losses, slowing down physically and mentally, having memory lapses — forgetting names, misplacing items, fatigue, being easily distracted, leaving things on the stove.

Alzheimer’s can mimic stroke, a minor head injury, effects from a high fever, poor nutrition, adverse drug reactions, metabolic and hormonal changes and depression. Other disorders must be ruled out. There is no single test to identify Alzheimer’s, so diagnosis may be difficult. Comprehensive medical tests may need to be performed.

If you have a loved one who has this diagnosis, there are some things that may be of help to you. First, the most important “drug” for an Alzheimer’s patient is your empathy and your smile.

In spite of all the problems, you must stay calm and reassuring. You must speak slowly, distinctly and use simple words.

This loved one is still a human to be treated with respect. Their basic needs have now been denied. They may no longer feel loved, safe and secure. They can no longer be useful, active and working. Their emotions now have to be expressed in a different way that others can’t seem to understand. It’s not difficult to realize how this must be very painful for them.

Alzheimer’s changes personality, temper and behavior. Patients may curse when they cannot speak anything else. The part of the brain that controls speaking is different from the part that controls cursing.

If they get angry and say ugly things, they are not being mean. Their brain is broken. When a person with Alzheimer’s speaks words you do not want to hear, it is the Alzheimer’s speaking, not the person.

So many of us carry mental and emotional baggage that Alzheimer’s would prevent us from sharing. So, the patient may be stuck with feelings of unfinished business with which they can no longer deal. How miserable that can be!

If they seem stubborn, it may mean they just do not understand. They are not being mean. They can hear but not understand. They can see but not recognize. Try not to overreact and never argue with them.

Their behavior may be the result of tension in their environment. They are surprisingly able to sense even when all is not well with their caretakers. A gentle, soft touch is an excellent way to assure them.

However, there is one thing to always remember: They have a “personal space” that they may not want you to enter without their permission. Use gestures carefully. Sudden movement may agitate them. Always approach them from the front so they will not be startled.

The Alzheimer’s patient is living in the past. Let them tell you what they remember, but never ask them, “Do you remember?” No, they do not remember!

They may get their days and nights mixed. They may be hungry or thirsty at odd times. Feed them or give them something to drink. They may not have eaten enough at meal time.

If a person had a happy childhood, their childlike stage of Alzheimer’s makes the presence of Christ very real to them. There may be a return to a child-like faith in God. They often enjoy hearing about a sermon you heard in church, who you saw, what hymns were sung. They may even ask to take communion (the Lord’s Supper). They respond to music they may remember. Often they respond to music even in the later stages when there’s no response to other things.

Prayer is the ultimate help. Psalm 71:1 (KJV) says it best: “In Thee, O Lord, do I put my trust: let me never be put to confusion.”

“If I can stop one heart from breaking, if I can ease one life the aching or cool one pain or help one lonely person into happiness again, I shall not live in vain.” (Anonymous)