November is Alzheimer’s awareness month. Alzheimer’s disease is a common form of dementia in which the parts of the brain that control thought, memory and language deteriorate (CDC, 2021). Currently, there are about 6.2 million people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease in the United States (Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, 2021). Alzheimer’s Awareness month was established in 1983 by President Ronald Reagan to recognize the increasing numbers of people diagnosed with the illness and the caregivers of these people (Long Island Alzheimer’s and Dementia Center, 2019).
Patients who suffer from Alzheimer’s are at high risk of becoming a vulnerable patient population. Vulnerable populations are commonly understood to include populations such as “those who are racial or ethnic minorities, children, elderly, socioeconomically disadvantaged, underinsured or those with certain medical conditions” (Waisel, 2013). As the Alzheimer’s disease progresses a patient become progressively less coherent of daily reality, thus making them a progressively more vulnerable patient. Eventually, patients may become dependent on caregivers for daily activities and unable to comprehend simple communication. It also becomes more difficult for patients to vocalize symptoms of common illnesses, such as pain, discomfort, or fevers.
Because Alzheimer patients are often dependent and simultaneously unable to vocalize discomfort, they are sometimes subject to delays in diagnosis or complications of illness. For example, a patient may be unable to tell a caregiver early signs of a urinary tract infection such as painful urination or urinary urgency. Caregivers might not be able to recognize the development of a urinary tract infection until the patient has a fever, is urinating blood or is showing signs of septic shock such as change in consciousness level.
When a nurse is reviewing any case of a patient who has Alzheimer’s disease, it must be considered if the Alzheimer’s disease had an impact on the treatment or prognosis outcome. It should be asked if any care was delayed due to the Alzheimer’s condition and the patient’s inability to communicate symptoms. It is also important to identify if any potential delay in care had a significant impact on the outcome. In some cases, delays in care would not change a treatment course. In other cases, it can have a devastating impact.
As the number of patients with Alzheimer’s continues to increase and the number of caregivers providing for these people also increases, it is important that awareness of this disease also continues to increase. Understanding the disease process allows for nurses and caregivers to understand the risk for this vulnerable population. It is also important for legal nurses to understand the risks and implications that Alzheimer’s disease may have on a patient’s prognosis and outcome.
To speak with an experienced team member, contact LEGAL NURSE CONSULTANTS USA, LLC online or call us at 877-211-7562 for a free consultation. You may also leave your contact information and a summary of your potential case, and a team member will get back to you promptly after review.
Alzheimer’s Foundation of America. (2021). Get involved in Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. Retrieved from: https://alzfdn.org/alzawarenessmonth/
Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/aging/aginginfo/alzheimers.htm#AlzheimersDisease
Long Island Alzheimer’s and Dementia Center (2019). November- Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. Retrieved from: https://www.lidementia.org/alzheimers-awareness-month/
Waisel, D.B. (2013). Vulnerable populations in healthcare. Current Opinion in Anesthesiology 26(2):186-92. Doi: 10.1097/ACO.0b013e32835e8c17