Alzheimer’s disease is a catch all term today much like the older term “dementia.”  Some prefer to call it the “old-timer’s disease.” However, Alzheimer’s is a very specific disorder that cannot be accurately diagnosed until an autopsy is performed.  It is characterized by the presence of excessive neuritic plaques and neurofibrillary tangles in brain tissue.  Although the course of the illness can be different for each individual, victims will demonstrate gradual, yet progressive cognitive dysfunction. Currently, there is no known cure or treatment that slows the progression of the disease. On average, sufferers have a life expectancy of about seven years from onset diagnosis.

Because there are many causes of mental confusion other than Alzheimer’s disease, it is recommended that any person with symptoms should be evaluated by a trained neurologist who specializes in cognitive impairments.  Some causes are treatable and reversible, especially if caught early.

A reason for mental confusion of some older persons can be emotional.  The older we become the more losses we have.  We may lose significant persons, eyesight, hearing, the ability to walk, important roles, etc., etc.  The impact of the accumulation of losses and grieving can add to the emotional stress of aging.  In addition, people tend to repress, are distracted from or postpone dealing with life’s difficult issues until age catches up with them. Often times this accumulated stress can lead to cognitive impairment.  A person may prefer a break from reality rather than emotionally working through deep and difficult personal issues.

Regardless of the cause of mental confusion, Naomi Feil has written a book to help people communicate with the cognitively impaired, The Validation Breakthrough: Simple Techniques for Communication with People with ‘Alzheimer-Type Dementia.’ Joy and Ed Goodwin first introduced The Feil method to The Baptist Home in the 1980s.

Joy Goodwin wrote, “Validation is a method for communicating with older adults who are exhibiting strange, bizarre and unusual behavior, without a reasonable explanation. Mal or disoriented old people can be labeled as having Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and related dementias. Through observation Feil began to notice that such people tended to use similar kinds of behaviors. Eventually, she identified four progressive stages with characteristics that distinguish different groups of mal and disoriented older adults. She also developed techniques for communicating with mal and disoriented adults. These techniques have been known to stop or slow down the progression of confusion and in some case reverse them to a prior stage. Validation Therapy is based on an attitude of respect. It stresses the importance of the caregiver to become the empathetic listener. The Validation trained person accepts the reality of the confused unconditionally. The therapy acknowledges that each person is unique, deserves individual attention and has a basic right to their reality. As trust develops, anxiety is lessoned, the need for physical and chemical restraints is reduced and a sense of self-worth is restored. Physical, social, mental, emotional and spiritual functioning is improved.”