Alzheimer’s is a disease of fragility. A mind can handle all sorts of problems, but when the brain has too many stresses, it starts to show symptoms. For goodness sake, you and I show mental weakness when we’re sleep-deprived, don’t we? Or food-deprived, or feverish, or overly-worried? For someone who already has plaques and tangles and brain damage from a stroke, it may take less to push them into confusion and delusions than it would for you and me.
Even soft drinks aren’t safe. In Life without Memories, I read that sugared drinks seem to make laboratory mice more forgetful and increase the amount of “amyloid plaque deposit” in their brains, the most typical physical evidence of Alzheimer’s disease. Read the article in the Journal of Biological Chemistry if you don’t believe it. My grandmother drank a lot of decaf sodas, which we hoped would keep her from losing weight. But later she usually asked for plain water.
Usually my grandmother’s mind could handle the stresses of her daily life. She rarely had delusions, except when she was sick. When she started asking about dead people, or wandering at night, my uncle rightly assumed that she had a fever, probably from a urinary tract infection (UTI). If you wore Depends®, and had trouble keeping yourself clean, you might have frequently urinary tract infections too. So my uncle got a prescription for the one antibiotic cocktail that didn’t cause reactions, gave her pills until they were all gone, and she was usually fine after that. I suspected that she would have been fine without the antibiotics, since I rarely gave them to her, and she recovered just as quickly.
I dedicated myself to protecting my grandmother’s fragility. Her self-esteem was important too, but I constantly thought about her environment, with an eye to eliminating aggravations. For example, my grandmother took unprescribed nerve-altering drugs every morning without fail. Yes, at 90 she was dependent on a recreational drug. It is called coffee, and when a nursing home worker casually mentioned on The Alzheimer List that they took all their residents off of caffeine, I began wondering if that might help my grandmother too.
For one thing, caffeine is a diuretic and tends to dehydrate you. Dehydration affects my mind too, while a good water supply helps fight UTIs and even colds. Oh yes, and getting enough water is vital to prevent constipation, which was my grandmother’s main health complaint at the time. (She was blind, hard of hearing, arthritic, and she had Alzheimer’s disease, but what bothered her the most was constipation. Go figure). If you get lots of fiber, but if you don’t get enough water, the fiber can actually make your constipation worse. That was the main reason I began buying the instant coffee with the green cap instead of the red cap. She seemed happy with the change to decaf coffee.