Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive brain disorder that is irreversible and is the most common cause of dementia in both older adults and seniors. It can destroy our memory, ability to think and even capacity to carry out very simple tasks.
According to the NIA, symptoms usually first appear when adults are in their mid-60’s and experts suggest that more than 5 million Americans have Alzheimers disease.
As with most diseases, the earlier Alzheimers is correctly diagnosed; the more helpful treatment can be. It also gives those who are close to those suffering more time to make the necessary arrangements to care for and assist them. As of now, despite ongoing research, there is no cure for Alzheimers, but treatments are improving.
Alzheimers Risk Factors
The Alzheimers Association states that age, family history and heredity are the three most important risk factors, but also believe that other factors can contribute or that we can influence ourselves. A few examples of this are:
- Head trauma
- Connection between the heart and head
- Healthy aging in general
Strong links have been drawn to serious head injuries and Alzheimers. Especially cases where there is a loss of consciousness. It is important to use the proper precautions when doing things such as traveling in a car to prevent head injuries in the case of an accident.
There is also growing evidence that there is a link between heart health and brain health. All of the potential problems that can arise with the heart and cardiovascular system such as high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, high cholesterol and diabetes can increase the risk of developing Alzheimers.
The way we treat our bodies and our overall health as we age can also be a major factor in determining how likely we are to develop Alzheimers. Staying in shape, eating healthy, and avoiding tobacco use and excessive alcohol consumption are all ways that we can reduce the risk of falling victim to the disease.
Early Signs and Symptoms
The Alzheimers Association lists numerous warning signs that could be indicative of the disease developing. These are:
- Memory loss that affects daily living
- Difficulty solving problems or making plans
- Confusing times or places
- Difficulty judging distances or making distinctions between colors
- Struggling to find the right words in both speaking and writing
- Misplacing things and being unable to retrace steps
- Lapses in judgment and bad decisions
- Withdrawal from occupations or activities
- Mood and personality change
It is worth noting that these symptoms do not necessarily mean Alzheimers is present. There are distinctions where some of these examples may simply be a part of typical aging. For example; misplacing something once in a while or having an occasional lapse in judgment which are things that can happen to all of us even in regular adulthood.
Being cautious is always advisable, however. Especially if you or your loved one are in or near the target age range where Alzheimers typically begins to show.
Stages of Alzheimers
It is commonly agreed upon that there are three stages of the disease. These are usually labeled as “mild”, “moderate” and “severe”.
When the disease is in the mild stage, the person is usually still able to function on their own. They can still work, take themselves places and even attend social events. However, during this stage, the person will start to notice they are having some memory lapses or are forgetting things that were usually familiar in the past.
Others who are close to someone who is at this stage will also usually notice these difficulties which can include but are not limited to misplacing objects, having problems with routine tasks at work, fumbling for words or having issues planning or organizing things.
According to the Alzheimers Association, the moderate stage is typically the longest and can last for many years. During this stage of the progression, the person will begin to require more care and more attention. At this point, unexpected behaviors can arise, and the person can become frustrated or angry at random as they are more frequently confused, and more damage to the nerve cells in the brain are taking place.
Symptoms that are typical of this stage are things such as forgetting personal details such as address, telephone number, where they are from, etc. They can lose track of what day it is or where they are; they may lose control of their bladder or bowels, and they can be at an increased risk of wandering or getting lost.
Finally, in the severe or late-stage, the person can no longer converse and may even lose control of their movements. Their personality can change, and they will need assistance daily with most, if not all of their activities.
The NIA notes weight loss, seizures, infections, difficulty swallowing, and increase in sleeping and groaning as symptoms that are all indicative of an individual in the severe stage of the disease.
People who are at this stage can no longer be left alone. They will need help around the clock from a nurse or loved one because they will be completely unable to care for themselves.
Treatments and Medications
Despite ongoing research, there is still no magic pill or cure that can erase or reverse Alzheimers, but there are a few medications that can help which are Cholinesterase inhibitors. They are prescribed to treat thought process related symptoms such as memory, thinking language and judgment. A few examples of these medications are Aricept, Razadyne, Exelon, and Namenda.
Alzheimers can be one of the most crippling and devastating diseases a senior can experience. It can completely strip away a person’s independence and ability to enjoy life, and it can turn them into a shell of what they once were. If you feel that you or someone you love may be experiencing early symptoms, be sure to let your doctor know as soon as possible.