By NADIA MARSH, M.D.

FLICKR/COUROSA
PHOTO: Flickr.com/COUROSA

You might have a grandparent or know of an older person who can’t remember things and needs help keeping track of appointments or paying bills. They may not remember your name when they see you. You may have been told that they have Alzheimer’s (pronounced ALZ-high-murz). You might wonder what happened to them.

What is Alzheimer’s?
Alzheimer’s is a disease of the brain that mainly affects the elderly. It affects their memory and how they do things on a daily basis. The brain is made up of neurons that communicate with one another by way of chemicals called neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitters are like messengers that help the brain to think, remember, learn new things and solve everyday problems. A person with Alzheimer’s has a decreased amount of neurotransmitters, which affects not only memory, but also how a person carries out everyday tasks like shopping, cooking or paying bills.

When someone you love has Alzheimer’s
Early on in the disease, you might notice that the person you are close to might be very forgetful or lose interest in things around them. This isn’t their fault. Their brain is having trouble remembering and making sense of things in the environment. It isn’t like the normal kind of forgetting that we are all used to – like leaving your sweater at school or not remembering when your math homework is due. A person with Alzheimer’s may forget things they knew well before, like their grandkids’ names or even their own address. In spite of this, a person with Alzheimer’s can still enjoy life. They can have hobbies, strong opinions and feel and show love.

What happens when Alzheimer’s gets worse?
As time goes on, people with Alzheimer’s may have more difficulty doing things that were easy for them before. That might include speaking in full sentences, dressing or using a fork and spoon. They may even have trouble walking. A person with Alzheimer’s may eventually need a lot of help from their family or other people to do everyday things. That might be hard on your mom or dad or whoever is taking care of them.

What can a kid do to help?
Kids can be the best remedy for improving the mood and well-being of a person with Alzheimer’s. Even though people with Alzheimer’s may forget a lot, they still may want to talk to you and hear about your day. They can enjoy doing fun things with you like looking at pictures, listening to music, coloring, taking walks or just hanging out. A person with Alzheimer’s can always feel your love, kindness and touch – and that’s what matters most.