What is Alzheimer’s Disease? Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments

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Alzheimer’s Disease is a brain disorder that affects memory, thinking, and behavior. It is estimated that more than 6 million Americans over 65 are currently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Find out what is Alzheimer’s Disease, its known causes, the stages of Alzheimer’s Disease, and current available treatments.

Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s Disease is a type of Dementia that affect your memory, thinking, and behavior. Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease progressively get worse over time and eventually will affect your daily tasks.

What is Alzheimer’s Disease?

Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common form of Dementia and is the 6th leading cause of death within the United States. It affects your memory as well as other cognitive abilities. Over time it will affect your day-to-day activities.

Alzheimer’s is a disorder in the brain that destroys your thinking skills and memory. It will eventually be difficult to carry out simple tasks that you have always been able to do as it progresses.

It is common to not see signs or symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease until later in life. Currently, on average, 6 million people are living with Alzheimer’s Disease in the United States. Most of these individuals are over the age of 65.

How Did Alzheimer’s Disease Get Its name?

In 1906, Dr. Alois Alzheimer discovered changes in a woman’s brain tissue that had died from a peculiar mental illness. Her symptoms included problems with language, memory loss, and changes in behavior. After her death, he examined further and found amyloid plaques and tangles. These plaques and tangles in the brain are the main feature of Alzheimer’s Disease to this day.

How does Alzheimer’s Disease affect the brain?

Scientists continue to investigate how Alzheimer’s Disease affects the brain and the changes that occur due to Alzheimer’s Disease. Scientists believe that changes in the brain begin about 10 years before seeing the first symptom of Alzheimer’s Disease. Abnormal buildups of proteins are beginning to form amyloid plaques and tangles during this time. During this time, healthy neurons stop functioning correctly and start to lose connections with other neurons, causing them to die.

The initial damage of Alzheimer’s Disease takes place in the hippocampus and the entorhinal cortex. These two parts are where all your memories are formed, so memory loss is one of the first symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease.

As neurons continue to die, other parts of the brain are affected and begin to shrink. In late-stage Alzheimer’s, the damage is widespread with minimal brain tissue that is not affected.

Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease

Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease

One of the key symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease is memory loss. Early signs of memory loss affect your short-term memory. This includes recent conversations and people you just met. As time goes on and as Alzheimer’s Disease progresses, these will affect other parts of your memory.

Memory

As individuals get older, we all forget things from time to time. Still, when we talk about memory loss concerning Alzheimer’s Disease, we talk about persistent memory loss that worsens. This includes things like:

  • Repeating questions over and over
  • Repeating statements
  • Becoming more forgetful when it comes to conversations, appointments, and events
  • Misplacing items more often
  • Getting lost in familiar places
  • Forgetting the names of close friends and family
  • Has trouble expressing themselves

Thinking and Reasoning

As Alzheimer’s Disease progresses, it affects your thinking and reasoning. These include:

  • Alzheimer’s Disease affects your concentration and thinking.
  • Multitasking becomes more difficult / if not impossible
  • Trouble managing finances (paying bills/balancing checkbook)

Judgments and Decisions

 Alzheimer’s Disease makes it difficult to make decisions and use correct judgment in day-to-day situations. These include:

  • Wearing inappropriate clothes for the weather. I.e., a coat in the summer or short sleeves when it is cold outside in the middle of winter.
  • More difficult to make quick judgments when driving
  • Confused about what to do when they burn their food on the stove

Difficulty with Familiar Tasks

When Alzheimer’s Disease is present everyday tasks become more difficult.

These include things that have several steps to them, such as:

  • Following a recipe
  • Playing a familiar board game

As Alzheimer’s Disease progresses, getting dressed and showering often becomes a challenging task for individuals living with Alzheimer’s Disease.

Personality and Behavior Changes

As brain changes occur due to Alzheimer’s Disease, it will affect your mood and behavior over time. These may include:

  • Social Withdrawal
  • Wandering
  • Delusions
  • Depressions
  • Mood swings
  • Not trusting others
  • Becoming more irritable
  • Becoming more aggressive
  • Changes in sleep patterns

Stages of Alzheimer’s Disease

Stages of Alzheimer's Disease

There are 7 stages of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Stage 1: Before Symptoms Appear

Alzheimer’s Disease begins before symptoms are noticeable. This usually occurs 10-15 years before individuals with Alzheimer’s show symptoms.

Because of this and how the risk of Alzheimer’s Disease increases with age, it is important to visit the doctor often. There they can screen for early signs of Alzheimer’s.

If you start to notice memory changes in your loved ones, they may be moving into stage 2 Alzheimer’s.

Stage 2: Forgetting Things

All of us forget things from time to time, and this definitely increases with age. Stage two forgetfulness may appear like normal-aged forgetfulness.

You may forget a name on occasion or where you set things. It does not affect your life since you can still drive, work, and interact as normal with others. As time goes by, these memory losses become more frequent. It is typical for friends and family to recognize these in you before you recognize them in yourself.

Stage 3: Noticeable Changes in Memory

As you or a loved one progresses into Stage 3 Alzheimer’s Disease, it is harder to blame what is happening in your life on old age. Most often, this is the stage where individuals with Alzheimer’s Disease are diagnosed. Things that become more challenging include:

● Forgetting what you just read

● Organizing becomes more difficult

● Struggle remembering names and words

● Social settings become more challenging

● Increase in anxiety

● Denial of the fact that you have Alzheimer’s Disease

If you see these symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease, it is best to consult with your doctor.

Stage 4: Cognitive Changes Begin

Stage 4 Alzheimer’s Disease can last for many years. Problems with memory progress further, and cognitive changes begin. Symptoms include:

  • Difficulty with language
  • Struggles to organize things
  • Struggles with calculations
  • Significant difficulties with memory such as:
  • Who they are married to
  • Where they live
  • Past memory is much better than day-to-day memory
  • Unsure on what day it is
  • Wandering more often
  • Getting lost
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Struggles with judgment
  • When lots of thinking is needed, individuals with Alzheimer’s Disease become very frustrated.
  • Moody
  • Personality changes begin to occur

Stage 5: Loss of Independence

Up until this stage, individuals with Alzheimer’s Disease have been able to live love on their own and function just fine with you checking in on them from time to time. As Alzheimer’s Disease progresses, stage 5 is when they will need help with day-to-day tasks. Other signs include:

  • Emotional changes
  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Paranoia
  • Forgetting close friends and family
  • Struggles learning new things
  • Struggles with basic tasks like getting dressed on their own

Stage 6: Severe Alzheimer’s Disease

Stage 6 of Alzheimer’s Disease usually becomes unsafe for individuals with Alzheimer’s to live independently. They no longer remember what they should do if the phone rings or the fire alarm goes off. Other changes may include:

  • Communication becomes more difficult
  • Anxiety
  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Paranoia
  • Independence decreases
  • Individuals with Alzheimer’s Disease become more frustrated with others.

Stage 7: Lack of Physical Control: Mental and Physical Impairment

In stage 7 of Alzheimer’s Disease, individuals with Alzheimer’s Disease may begin to see their bodies shutting down. In this stage, the needs of individuals with Alzheimer’s increase significantly. Commonly, they will need around-the-clock care to help them with tasks such as walking, sitting, and even swallowing.

As mobility slows, your loved ones become more and more vulnerable to pneumonia and other infections. You want to make sure to help them keep their mouth clean, treat cuts quickly, and get their flu shot if their healthcare provider recommends it.

Alzheimer’s Disease Risk Factors

Alzheimer's Disease Risk Factors

Several risk factors play a part in Alzheimer’s Disease. These may include the following:

Age

While Alzheimer’s Disease is not a normal part of aging, it is the most significant risk. The older you get, the more at risk you are to develop Alzheimer’s.

Family History

Studies show you are more at risk of getting Alzheimer’s if a first-degree relative has the disease. This includes parents or siblings. Although you may be more at risk of a first degree relative has Alzheimers, one can still have Alzheimers without a family history.

Down Syndrome

It is common for people with down syndrome to develop Alzheimer’s. Scientists believe that it is likely related to having three copies of chromosome 21. Individuals with Down syndrome tend to develop Alzheimer’s 10 to 20 years earlier than other individuals.

Sex

While there is no significant difference, women tend to develop the disease more often than men.

Mild Cognitive Impairment

Individuals with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) have a significant risk of developing dementia due to Alzheimer’s Disease. Those with MCI are encouraged to focus on healthy lifestyle changes and develop strategies to help with memory loss.

Head Trauma

Individuals who have suffered severe head trauma are at a much greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease.

Excessive Alcohol

Studies show that drinking large amounts of alcohol have been known to cause brain changes. Excessive alcohol use is linked to a higher risk of early-onset Dementia. 

Lifestyle

Studies show that the same risk factors in heart disease also increase the risk of Alzheimer’s Disease. These may include:

  • Lack of exercise
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Poor management of Type 2 diabetes

If you have one of these risk factors, you can easily alter your risk by changing your lifestyle.

How to Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease?

While Alzheimer’s Disease cannot be prevented, there are many things individuals can do to lower the risk of Alzheimer’s Disease or early-onset Alzheimer’s. These include:

  • Healthy diet
  • Exercising regularly
  • Getting treatment for high blood pressure
  • Getting treatment for diabetes
  • Getting treatment for high cholesterol
  • Quit smoking
  • Limit alcohol consumption
  • Participating in social events
  • Reading
  • Dancing
  • Playing board games
  • Activities that require mental and social engagement

Treatment for Alzheimer’s Disease

Treatment for Alzheimer's Disease

Alzheimer’s Disease is not reversible. There are only things that can help slow and manage Alzheimer’s.

 

Medication

There are several options of medications to help reduce symptoms with behavior problems. Speak with your doctor regarding more in depth information pertaining to this.

Behavior Management

Working with a therapist in your area can help with behavioral issues to make them more comfortable and easier for the caregiver.

Support

Becoming knowledgeable about Alzheimer’s Disease and how you can support your loved one is a crucial part of the treatment plan for your loved one.

When Do you see a Doctor if you think you have Alzheimer’s Disease?

Several factors can lead to memory loss. If you or a loved one thinks they are developing Alzheimer’s Disease based on symptoms, it is best to talk to your doctor and get an assessment to determine if you have Alzheimer’s so that you can begin treatment.

References

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