Alzheimer’s disease is a brain disorder that causes significant memory loss, especially in short term memories, as well as cognitive degeneration and problematic behavioral responses. While this disease starts off rather mildly, it progressively gets worse over time until the individual is no longer able to function by themselves on a daily basis. While there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, research has provided some improved treatments that help individuals maintain their memory and cognitive functioning for a longer period of time than was previously possible.
While this disease is more common among the elderly, it is not considered to be a part of the normal aging process. Alzheimer’s disease is a condition that worsens over time, with symptoms gradually becoming more severe as time goes on. There are three stages of this disorder: mild, moderate, and severe. In the early stages, memory loss is mild and may even be mistaken for normal forgetfulness associated with age. In the beginning, you may not even recognize that anything is wrong, even if others around you may begin to see a change. However, in the later stages people become so affected by the disorder that they may no longer be able to interact with others or respond to their environment at all.
While there are common symptoms associated with this disease, each individual’s experience with Alzheimer’s is different. This is a devastating disease that is hard for both the individual and their family members. With new medication that can slow the progression of dementia symptoms available, it is important to seek help as soon as you or your family suspect something may be wrong. The earlier you get treatment, the longer you may be able to put off the progressive symptoms and still live a fulfilling, happy life. Treatment can also help you and your loved ones deal with the associated emotions that result from discovering you have Alzheimer’s disease.
It is believed that around 7 million people in the U.S. currently suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. The prevalence rate of Alzheimer’s disease rises significantly with age. In the U.S. the prevalence rates for individuals ages 65-74 is 7%;for individuals between the ages of 75 and 84 the estimate is 53%, while for those over the age of 84 the rate increases to 40%. When taking all the types of dementia into account, estimates indicate between 60% to 90% of all cases are accounted for by Alzheimer’s type dementia.
It is not unusual for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease to also have one or more medical conditions or additional mental health concerns. The most common medical condition experienced by individuals with Alzheimer’s disease is cerebrovascular disease. In addition, people suffering from Alzheimer’s may experience:
- Suicidal thoughts and behaviors
- Intermittent Explosive Disorder
Causes of Alzheimer’s Disease
Most researchers believe that Alzheimer’s is a result of the combination of genetic, lifestyle, and environmental factors that come to affect the brain over time. The exact causes are not known, but we do know how this disorder affects the brain. Some of the hypothesized causes for the development of this disorder include:
Brain structure: Individuals who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease have shown two types of brain abnormalities. Plaques, or clumps of protein, in the brain may lead to the damage and destruction of brain cells, which interferes with cell-to-cell communication. Additionally, tangles in the brain may be another cause of the development of this disorder.
Genetic: If you have a first degree relative with Alzheimer’s, such as a parent or sibling, your chance of developing this disorder is higher. Research has shown that there are three gene mutations that exist that if inherited, will cause the development of this disorder.
Age: Increase in age is the greatest known risk factor for the development of Alzheimer’s; the risk increases even more after 65 years of age. Nearly half of those who are over the age of 85 have Alzheimer’s.
Sex: Women are more likely to develop this disorder, which may be a result of them living longer.
Signs and Symptoms
There is a wide variety of signs and symptoms that are characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease. These include:
- Repeat statements and questions over and over
- Forget conversations, appointments, or events
- Often misplace possessions
- Come to forget names of loved ones
- Difficulty finding right words to describe objects
- Decline in reading ability
- Difficulty taking part in a conversation
- Mild loss of verbal fluency
- Non-fluency develops in later stages
- Poor comprehension
- Inability to repeat something just said
- In late stages the individual may become practically mute
- Misplacing items
- Getting lost
- Trouble driving
- Trouble copying figures
- Loss of gait
- Social withdrawal
- Loss of inhibitions
- Distrust of others
- Change in sleeping habits
- Mood swings
Effects of Alzheimer’s
There are a number of effects of Alzheimer’s disease on the individual, family, and caretakers. These may include:
- Not able to communicate when in pain
- Can’t report symptoms of another illness
- Not able to follow treatment plan
- More vulnerable to developing pneumonia and other infections
- Injuries due to falling
- Problems with balance
- Inability to swallow
- Bowel and bladder control problems
- Family problems
- A sense of loss of self