Alzheimer’s Disease. Many people assume that all older people develop this relentless condition that eventually robs people of memory while affecting a person’s thoughts, words, and actions; however, Alzheimer’s is not a normal change of aging.
What is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s is a common brain disorder that progressively destroys brain cells over time, causing many changes in memory, language, and behavior. It was first diagnosed in 1906 by Dr. Alois Alzheimer, a German physician who presented a case history of a 51-year-old woman who suffered from a brain disorder we now know as Alzheimer’s disease. According to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, approximately 5.1 million people in the United States may have Alzheimer’s, and that number is predicted to rise.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association this common form of dementia causes the following changes in the brain:
- Beta-amyloid plaques – clumps of protein and other material that form around the brain’s neurons, or nerve cells
- Neurofibrillary tangles – twisted strands of protein tau inside the neurons
- Destruction of brain connections or synapses
- Shrinking brain tissue as cells begin to die
Scientists have been unable to pinpoint exactly what causes Alzheimer’s disease, which is one of the top ten leading causes of death in the United States. Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for this progressive loss of brain function, but research studies are being conducted that are searching for a cure for Alzheimer’s. Some treatments have been developed that may help manage symptoms of this dementia.
Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer’s
Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease tend to start gradually and become more severe over time. Progression to severe stages might take two to twenty years or longer. Although Alzheimer’s mainly affects people over the age of 65, this most common form of dementia may have an early onset in those as young as 30. Although everyone may experience moments in which they forget things, Alzheimer’s has patterns of abnormal changes affecting:
A person who does not have dementia might misplace his or her keys while someone with Alzheimer’s may be holding the keys but cannot remember what they are called and may be unsure of what to do with the keys or why they are holding them. Someone without Alzheimer’s might miss an appointment or forget a name while someone with Alzheimer’s may forget how to get to the doctor’s office or have no recollection of ever meeting the person.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association some red flags to watch for include:
- Short term memory loss – failing to remember recently learned information, forgetting important dates, asking the same questions repeatedly, depending on others to handle tasks they used to do themselves.
- Difficulty with concentration that makes it difficult or takes longer for the person to follow through with a plan or to work with numbers.
- Problems completing activities of daily living, such as driving, managing finances, brushing teeth, getting dressed, or playing a familiar game.
- Inability to remember the time or place – a person with Alzheimer’s may be somewhere but have no idea how they arrived at the location or where they are.
- Problems with vision, such as discriminating colors, contrasts, or depths. They may also have difficulty reading and might mistake a mirror image as another person.
- Difficulty with speech may appear as the person struggles to find the right word, forgets what he is trying to say, or frequently repeats herself.
- Losing items, placing items in odd places, and being unable to retrace his or her steps in order to find those items.
- Judgment is affected as the person may have difficulties in making decisions about personal hygiene, managing finances, and other daily decisions that once came naturally.
- Social isolation tends to result as the person avoids activities and social gatherings he or she once enjoyed.
- Personality, mood, and normal behaviors may change as the person may become suspicious of others, angry, fearful, anxious, or depressed, particularly in unfamiliar settings. The changes may be progressive, persistent, and may result in quick outbursts.
Typical red flags of Alzheimer’s tend to occur over time and progress. For example, short-term memory loss, an unkept appearance, and difficulty making decisions may appear in earlier stages and later progress to being unable to remember family members and needing assistance with activities of daily life. This type of dementia will typically progress for two to twenty years.
Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease
Although brain changes associated with Alzheimer’s disease were discovered over 100 years ago, the cause of those changes and how to reverse them seems to remain a mystery. Although all people may have lapses in memory at times, Alzheimer’s progressively robs people of the ability to remember, think, reason, and care for themselves over time. Confusion can be caused by many other conditions, so it is important to seek an evaluation by a healthcare professional if Alzheimer’s is suspected.