A time to raise awareness and challenge the stigma that surrounds dementia
Part 1 of 3
By Bernard Freeman
What is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia that affects memory, thinking and behavior. Symptoms eventually grow severe enough to interfere with daily tasks.
Alzheimer’s is not the same as dementia, but Alzheimer’s is one of the leading causes of dementia, a general term for memory loss and other cognitive abilities serious enough to interfere with daily life.
Who Can Get It?
Alzheimer’s mostly affects people who are 60 years or older. The greatest known risk factor is aging. Alzheimer’s can also affect younger people. The Alzheimer’s Association says that 200,000 Americans under the age of 65 have younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease.
What Do We Know?
Scientist do not fully understand what causes Alzheimer’s. Age is the best-known risk factor; it’s a progressive disease, meaning it worsens with age. Many researchers believe genetics may play a big role in developing Alzheimer’s disease. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says researchers are studying whether education, diet and environment play a role in developing Alzheimer’s disease. There is evidence showing that physical, mental and social activities may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
How is Alzheimer’s Treated?
There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease. Medical experts work to improve the quality of life for people with Alzheimer’s by helping maintain mental functions, manage behavioral symptoms, and attempting to slow or delay the symptoms. The National institute of Aging says researchers hope to develop therapies targeting specific genetic, molecular and cellular mechanisms so the actual underlying cause of the disease can be stopped or prevented.
How is it Diagnosed?
According to the NIA, doctors use several methods to determine whether a person experiencing memory loss has Alzheimer’s.
Doctors ask the person and a family member or friend questions about overall health, prescription use, over-the-counter medicines, diet, past medical problems, ability to carry out daily activities and changes in behavior or personality. They may conduct a memory test, assess problem-solving skills, attention, counting and language. There may also be standard medical tests to identify other possible causes for the symptoms. Finally, the doctor may order brain scans.
If you or a loved one is experiencing memory loss, seek professional help.
Stages of Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s disease can begin affecting the brain up to 10 years before any signs or symptoms show in a person.
The Alzheimer’s Association and National Institute of Aging say there are three stages of Alzheimer’s disease. The first is mild or early stage Alzheimer’s.
Early Stage Alzheimer’s
Most people in the early or mild stage of Alzheimer’s disease are still able to function by themselves. In this stage, people experience greater memory loss and other cognitive difficulties. People may feel as if they are experiencing memory lapses.
Problems include wandering, getting lost, trouble handling money, repeating questions and taking longer to do normal daily tasks. Most family members or close friends may notice the cognitive changes.
Doctors recommend that caregivers and the person with Alzheimer’s start any legal, financial or end-of-life plans as the disease will progress.
Middle Stage Alzheimer’s
The middle stage of Alzheimer’s disease is where damage occurs in areas of the brain that control language, reasoning, sensory processing and conscious thought. This stage typically can last the longest and for many years. Memory loss and confusion grow worse, and people begin to have problems recognizing family and friends in this stage.
As the disease progresses, the person with Alzheimer’s will continually need more assistance from family or close friends. Most medical experts recommend caregivers consider respite or an adult day care to help with the increasing care time and work.
Late Stage Alzheimer’s
The last stage of Alzheimer’s is severe or late stage Alzheimer’s disease. Ultimately, brain tissue shrinks significantly. Those with severe Alzheimer’s cannot communicate and are completely dependent on others for their care. Near the end, they may be in bed most or all the time as the body slowly shuts down. At this stage, caregivers are recommended to use support services such as hospice. The best care you can give someone at this point is to make sure they are comfortable.
10 Early Signs of Alzheimer’s
As scientists continue to investigate the brain as Alzheimer’s progresses, there are signs that show the brain damage begins years before memory or other cognitive problems begin.
Here are the 10 early signs and symptoms to watch out for according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
One of the most common signs of Alzheimer’s disease, especially in the early stage, is memory loss. Usually, those in the early stage of Alzheimer’s experience forgetting recently learned information or important dates and events, asking the same questions over and over and increasingly need to rely on memory aids or family members to handle things they used to do on their own.
Challenges in Planning or Problem-Solving
Some people experiencing Alzheimer’s or a form of dementia show changes in their ability to develop or follow a plan.
Other difficulties they may experience include keeping track of bills and money, concentrating and learning new things.
Difficulty Completing a Familiar Task
People with Alzheimer’s find it difficult to perform familiar tasks they once had no problem with. These kinds of tasks include driving to a familiar location, needing help using a microwave or using a remote control.
Confusion with Time or Place
People with progressing Alzheimer’s may experience losing track of dates, time of year and time. They may also forget where they are or how they got to a location.
Trouble Understanding Visual Images
Some people affected with Alzheimer’s disease experience vision problems such as having difficulty with balance or trouble reading. This may also cause problems such as determining distance and color or contrast, causing issues with driving for some.
Trouble Speaking or Writing
People with Alzheimer’s may find it difficult following or joining in conversations. They may stop in the middle of a conversation and forget what they are saying repeatedly. They may have trouble pronouncing words, with vocabulary or have trouble naming a familiar object or person.
A person with Alzheimer’s disease may place things in unusual places. They may be unable to retrace their steps to find where they left the item. People living with Alzheimer’s may tend to accuse others of stealing as the disease progresses.
People may experience changes in judgment or decision-making, especially regarding money or paying less attention to grooming or keeping themselves clean.
Withdrawal from Work or Socializing
A person with Alzheimer’s may find it difficult to hold or follow conversations. As a result, they tend to withdraw themselves from conversations, hobbies or activities.
As the disease progresses, people may experience changes in mood and personality. They can be more confused, suspicious, depressed, fearful or anxious, or easily upset.