Alzheimer's disease is a progressive, irreversible brain disorder with no known cause or cure. It usually begins after age 60 but is NOT a normal part of aging.
Symptoms of Alzheimer's Disease
Symptoms begin slowly and vary widely. The first symptom is usually forgetfulness.
The 10 most common symptoms and warning signs of Alzheimer's are:
1. Memory Loss: Short term memory loss (recently learned information) is usually
the first sign that something is wrong. This is NOT your normal, occassional forgetfulness
(ie. forgot where you put your keys). The forgetfulness is severe enough to interfere with
normal daily activity.
2. Difficulty performing everyday tasks. Individuals may forget or lose track of the steps
involved in normal everyday tasks such as: bathing, preparing a meal, making a telephone call or playing a game.
3. Language Difficulties. A person with Alzheimer's may forget the word for a familiar object. They may substitute unusual words, making their speech or writing hard to understand.
4. Disorientation. People with Alzheimer's disease can get lost in their own neighborhood.
They may forget where they are and how they got there, and not know how to get back home.
5. Poor Judgment. A person with Alzheimer's may dress or act inappropriately. They may dress
in winter clothes in the summer or summer clothes in the winter. They may easily fall for scams that they
would not have when they were well.
6. Problems with abstract thinking. Someone with Alzheimer�s may have unusual difficulty performing more complex mental tasks.
They may forget what letters are even for and have no idea how to put them together to make words.
7. Misplacing things Not your normal misplacing of objects but things like putting the iron in the refrigerator or their wallet
in the toaster.
8. Personality Changes. The personalities of people with Alzheimer's can change dramatically. Their personality may exhibit signs of
hostility, fearfulness, or suspicion. They may become extremely dependent on a loved one for even simple tasks.
9. Changes in Behavior or mood. Someone with Alzheimer's disease may show rapid mood swings from calm to tears to anger for no apparent reason.
They may exhibit inappropriate behaviors such as laughing at a funeral.
10. Loss of enthusiasm. A person with Alzheimer's may isolate themselves. They may not want to leave the house or participate in social functions that
they previously enjoyed. They may become depressed and withdrawn, sleeping for hours during the day or just sit staring at the TV for long periods of time.
Causes & Risk Factors
Although scientists know that the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease are caused by damage to the brain cells, they do not yet know what causes the damage itself.
Age is the most important risk factor for Alzheimer's disease. The risk of developing Alzheimer's doubles about every five years after age 65.
After age 85, the risk reaches nearly 50 percent. Another risk factor is family history. Those who have a parent, brother or sister, or child with Alzheimer's
are more likely to develop Alzheimer's. Certain genetic mutations have also been associated with Alzheimer's disease.
Treatment of Alzheimer's Disease
Unfortunately, there is no cure for Alzheimer's disease and no way to slow the progression of the disease. Medications
can be used to help control behavioral symptoms such as sleeplessness, agitation, wandering, anxiety, and depression. There are also medications which can be
used to treat cognitive symptoms. Cognitive symptoms affect memory, language, judgment, planning, ability to pay attention and other thought processes. The medications
work by affecting the activity of two different chemicals involved in carrying messages between the brain's nerve cells. The two types of medications approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat
cognitive symptoms of Alzheimer's disease are:
1. Cholinesterase inhibitors - medications in this group prevent the breakdown of acetylcholine, a chemical messenger important for learning and memory.
2. Memantine - which works by regulating the activity of glutamate, a different messenger chemical involved in learning and memory.
It is very important for family and caregivers to be involved in the non-drug approaches to treating Alzheimer's symptoms.
They must first recognize that the person with Alzheimer's is not exhibiting these behaviors on purpose or just to be mean. They are
symptoms of the disease which are out of their control. Understanding what triggers certain behaviors can help family members and caregivers make the appropriate
changes. For example, if a certain noise, causes the patient to become fearful, try to minimize that noise around them. If there are certain things in the person's environment
causing them trouble, such as having trouble locating the bathroom in the dark, make changes to make that easier. Putting night lights along the path to the bathroom would help.
A person with Alzheimer's disease may even forget to eat or drink, which can cause some behavioral symptoms. Be sure they have had an appropriate amount of food and drink.
Avoid arguing facts with a person with Alzheimer's. They may talk about wanting to go visit a person who died years ago as if they were still alive. Instead of pointing out that the person has died
(which could cause a person with Alzheimer's to become very agitated or upset), just say that you would like to see them again someday too. When a person with Alzheimer's starts getting agitated or upset, try redirecting their
attention to something else. Be patient! Keep the days activities as simple as possible. Allow breaks between activities. Keep the environment safe. Add security measures such as gates, extra locks, & removing hazards, as becomes necessary.
Stay involved in the care of your loved one with Alzheimer's Disease. Talk to their doctor, don't be afraid to ask questions. The more informed you are, the better you will be able to make decisions involving your loved ones care and well-being.
It's helpful to keep a pad of paper handy so that you can write down things as you think of them, or as behaviors arise, that you want to discuss with the doctor.