Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, affecting 5.2 million Americans over the age of 65 and women account for almost two-thirds. Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of aging, but the chances of developing the disease do increase the older we get. Sometimes, Alzheimer’s can affect younger people. These rare cases of the disease are called early-onset Alzheimer’s.
What is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is a neurological disorder in which the death of brain cells causes memory loss and cognitive decline. At first, its symptoms are mild, but they become more severe over time. There is no cure for Alzheimer’s, however, there are treatments that can slow the progression of the disease. (Healthline, 2019)
Alzheimer’s Disease Causes and Warning Signs
Researchers contradict on what causes the disease, although age, personal health, family history, genetics and abnormal protein deposits in the brain are believed to contribute. As per the CDC & Alzheimer Association, they often include the following:
- Age and family history
- Certain genes
- Abnormal protein deposits in the brain
- Other risk and environmental factors
- Immune system problems
The first, most common warning sign of Alzheimer’s disease is changing in short-term memory that may disrupt daily life, such as forgetting words or names, or how to get to a familiar location. Also affected are familiar tasks, like cooking or paying bills, may become challenging.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the following are the most common symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease; however, individuals may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may begin with a reduced ability to take in and remember new information, which can lead, for example, to repetitive questions or conversations.
One may find difficulty thinking of common words while speaking, including hesitation. Speech, spelling, and writing errors are common. We misplace commonly used personal belongings like shoes, wallet, house keys. Another symptom is forgetting events or appointments. The most frightening of all is getting lost on a familiar route. This is when family members become concerned about allowing the affected person to drive.
The onset of impaired visuospatial abilities that are not, for example, due to eyesight problems can range from an inability to recognize faces or common objects or to find objects in direct view can also be a sign. Other challenges include the inability to use simple tools, for example, to orient clothing to the body.
Difficulty in reasoning, complex tasking, and exercising judgment is another sign that living alone becomes concerning. Situations such as poor understanding of safety risks, inability to manage finances, poor decision-making ability, inability to plan complex or sequential activities create safety concerns.
Finally, we notice changes in personality and behavior, for example, out-of-character mood changes, including agitation, apathy, social withdrawal or a lack of interest, motivation, or initiative. This can lead to loss of empathy or compulsive, obsessive, or socially unacceptable behavior. (Alzheimer Association, 2020). We may feel as though we no longer recognize our loved one.
If symptoms begin or worsen over hours or days, one should seek immediate medical attention, as this could indicate an acute illness.
Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease, which means the symptoms will gradually worsen over time. Alzheimer’s is broken down into seven stages:
- Stage 1. There are no symptoms at this stage but there might be an early diagnosis based on family history.
- Stage 2. The earliest symptoms appear, such as forgetfulness.
- Stage 3. Mild physical and mental impairments appear, such as reduced memory and concentration. These may only be noticeable by someone very close to the person.
- Stage 4. Alzheimer’s is often diagnosed at this stage, but it’s still considered mild. Memory loss and the inability to perform everyday tasks is evident.
- Stage 5. Moderate to severe symptoms require help from loved ones or caregivers.
- Stage 6. At this stage, a person with Alzheimer’s may need help with basic tasks, such as eating and putting on clothes.
- Stage 7. This is the most severe and final stage of Alzheimer’s. There may be a loss of speech and facial expressions.
As a person progresses through these stages, they’ll need increasing support from a caregiver.
There is no single test for Alzheimer’s disease, so doctors will look at the signs and symptoms and perform various tests ranging from a mental status test to genetic testing. Since onset can be very gradual or very fast, it is best to be diagnosed early to perform intervention that may create a lessening of symptoms or irreversible damage to the brain. (Medical News, 2020)
At this time, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s. The disease progresses as nerve cells in the brain are damaged and can no longer function normally, and there is no way to reverse this deterioration.
Physical exercise and social activity are most important in managing Alzheimer’s disease, as are proper nutrition, health maintenance, and a calm and well-structured environment. Medications can sometimes help with cognitive and behavioral symptoms. (WebMD, 2019)
Alzheimer’s is a complicated disease in which there are many unknowns. What is known is that the condition worsens over time, but treatment can help delay symptoms and improve your quality of life.
If you think you or a loved one may have Alzheimer’s Disease, your first step is to talk with a doctor. To help make a diagnosis, discuss what you can expect, and help connect you with services and support. If you’re interested, they can also give you information about taking part in clinical trials.
Knowing you have access to a 24/7 365-day emergency care facility will help you when a symptom becomes an emergency. Know your resources ahead of time and create a plan with family members to manage the health and well-being of a parent or grandparent who is showing signs of mental decline. We want you to be informed and know that our board-certified ER Physicians are equipped to handle any emergency medical situation.
“What Is Alzheimer’s?” N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Aug. 2020.’’ https://www.alz.org/alzheimers-dementia/what-is-alzheimers
Herndon, Jaime. “Everything You Need to Know About Alzheimer’s Disease.” Healthline. Healthline Media, 04 Dec. 2018. Web. 17 Aug. 2020. https://www.healthline.com/health/alzheimers-disease#causes-and-risk-factors
“Alzheimer’s Disease: Symptoms, Stages, Causes, and Treatment.” Medical News Today. MediLexicon International, n.d. Web. 17 Aug. 2020. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/159442#causes
“What Is Alzheimer’s Disease?” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 02 June 2020. Web. 17 Aug. 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/aging/aginginfo/alzheimers.htm
Lava, Neil. “Alzheimer’s Disease Information: Facts, Causes, Definition, and More.” WebMD. WebMD, 03 Feb. 2019. Web. 17 Aug. 2020. https://www.webmd.com/alzheimers/guide/understanding-alzheimers-disease-basics