How To Know About Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive form of dementia. Dementia is a broader term for conditions caused by brain injuries or diseases that negatively affect memory, thinking, and behavior. These changes interfere with daily living.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases. Most people with the disease get a diagnosis after age 65. If it’s diagnosed before then, it’s generally referred to as early onset Alzheimer’s disease.
Although many people have heard of Alzheimer’s disease, some aren’t sure exactly what it is. Here are some facts about this condition:
- Alzheimer’s disease is a chronic ongoing condition.
- Its symptoms come on gradually and the effects on the brain are degenerative, meaning they cause slow decline.
- There’s no cure for Alzheimer’s but treatment can help slow the progression of the disease and may improve quality of life.
- Anyone can get Alzheimer’s disease but certain people are at higher risk for it. This includes people over age 65 and those with a family history of the condition.
- Alzheimer’s and dementia aren’t the same thing. Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia.
- There’s no single expected outcome for people with Alzheimer’s. Some people live a long time with mild cognitive damage, while others experience a more rapid onset of symptoms and quicker disease progression.
The terms “dementia” and “Alzheimer’s” are sometimes used interchangeably. However, these two conditions aren’t the same. Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia.
Dementia is a broader term for conditions with symptoms relating to memory loss such as forgetfulness and confusion. Dementia includes more specific conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, traumatic brain injury, and others, which can cause these symptoms.
Experts haven’t determined a single cause of Alzheimer’s disease but they have identified certain risk factors, including:
- Age: Most people who develop Alzheimer’s disease are 65 years of age or older.
- Family history: If you have an immediate family member who has developed the condition, you’re more likely to get it.
- Genetics: Certain genes have been linked to Alzheimer’s disease.
Having one or more of these risk factors doesn’t mean that you’ll develop Alzheimer’s disease. It simply raises your risk level.
While there’s no one identifiable cause of Alzheimer’s, genetics may play a key role. One gene in particular is of interest to researchers. Apolipoprotein E (APOE) is a gene that’s been linked to the onset of Alzheimer’s symptoms in older adults.
Blood tests can determine if you have this gene, which increases your risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Keep in mind that even if someone has this gene, they may not get Alzheimer’s.
The opposite is also true: Someone may still get Alzheimer’s even if they don’t have the gene. There’s no way to tell for sure whether someone will develop Alzheimer’s.
Symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease
Everyone has episodes of forgetfulness from time to time. But people with Alzheimer’s disease display certain ongoing behaviors and symptoms that worsen over time. These can include:
- memory loss affecting daily activities, such as an ability to keep appointments
- trouble with familiar tasks, such as using a microwave
- difficulties with problem-solving
- trouble with speech or writing
- becoming disoriented about times or places
- decreased judgment
- decreased personal hygiene
- mood and personality changes
- withdrawal from friends, family, and community
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.
There’s no known cure for Alzheimer’s disease. However, your doctor can recommend medications and other treatments to help ease your symptoms and delay the progression of the disease for as long as possible.
For early to moderate Alzheimer’s, your doctor may prescribe medications . These drugs can help maintain high levels of acetylcholine in your brain. This is a type of neurotransmitter that can help aid your memory.
To treat moderate to severe Alzheimer’s, your doctor may prescribe donepezil (Aricept) or memantine (Namenda). Memantine can help block the effects of excess glutamate. Glutamate is a brain chemical that’s released in higher amounts in Alzheimer’s disease and damages brain cells.
Your doctor may also recommend antidepressants, antianxiety medications, or antipsychotics to help treat symptoms related to Alzheimer’s. These symptoms include:
In addition to medication, lifestyle changes may help you manage your condition. For example, your doctor might develop strategies to help you or your loved one:
- focus on tasks
- limit confusion
- avoid confrontation
- get enough rest every day
- stay calm
Some people believe that vitamin E can help prevent decline in mental abilities, but studies indicate that more research is needed. Be sure to ask your doctor before taking vitamin E or any other supplements. It can interfere with some of the medications used to treat Alzheimer’s disease.
If you have a loved one with Alzheimer’s, you may consider becoming a caregiver. This is a full-time job that’s typically not easy but can be very rewarding.
Being a caregiver takes many skills. These include patience perhaps above all, as well as creativity, stamina, and the ability to see joy in the role of helping someone you care about live the most comfortable life they can.
As a caregiver, it’s important to take care of yourself as well as your loved one. With the responsibilities of the role can come an increased risk of stress, poor nutrition, and lack of exercise.