Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia, this disease attacks the brain’s nervous cells.
What is Alzheimer’s?
Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease that attacks the brain’s nerve cells. Affecting over 4 million people a year, Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia among older Americans.
What is Dementia?
Dementia is often confused as a disease in and of itself but it’s actually a group of symptoms caused by other diseases. Although Alzheimer’s typically strikes after age 60, early-onset Alzheimer’s symptoms can begin in people in their late 40s.
Patients diagnosed with Alzheimer’s experience a mental decline that begins with mild memory loss, sloping down to marked memory loss and finally in later stages, the patient struggles with inhibition, personality changes, the inability to cope with activities of daily living including personal grooming, and finally they become unable to respond to their environment.
Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. Currently, there is no cure for the disease but treatment options are available in the form of medication and supplements to slow the progression and manage behavioral challenges. Attention should also be given to ongoing care for the patient with well-planned emotional support.
Learn how to identify Alzheimer’s symptoms to begin early treatment.
It’s important to remember Alzheimer’s is not a common part of aging. It’s a disorder and early detection is important, as is getting a correct diagnosis. Many symptoms of Alzheimer’s can mimic other problems including depression, thyroid disease, medication, substance abuse and nutritional deficiency.
The Alzheimer’s Association points out 10 warning signs of the disease that should be checked for and mentioned to your doctor:
- Disruptive memory loss
- Difficulty with problem solving
- Struggle to take on basic tasks at work and home
- Confusion with time or place
- Difficulty interpreting images or spatial relationships
- Difficulty speaking or writing
- Losing items and unable to retrace steps
- Lack of judgment
- Withdrawn personality; disinterest in social activities or work
- Swings or differences in mood and personality
Learn the causes of Alzheimer’s and prevent it where you can.
There is no one path to Alzheimer’s, and in many cases it’s not entirely preventable.
Age: Alzheimer’s is age-related but not a typical part of the aging process. Significant Alzheimer’s symptoms typically begin after the age of 60.
Genetics: Immediate blood relatives, like parents or siblings, diagnosed with the disease increases the risk.
Brain: Alzheimer’s disease disrupts nerve cells in the brain and the connections these cells make to one another. Over time, plaque and nerve-cell tangles cause the patient’s brain to shrink, effecting memory and behavior. In the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s, this affects nearly all brain function.
Plaque: Many microwave popcorn brands contain a chemical called diacetyl that can trigger a build up of plaque in the brain, which can cause Alzheimer’s.
Obesity/Diabetes: High insulin levels can increase the risk.
Risk Factor Gene: Having the gene Protein E (ApoE) does not guarantee a future diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease but it does increase the risk.
The FDA has approved some prescription medication for the treatment of Alzheimer’s.
There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, only management of the symptoms. Drug treatment is available to target many of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s. Comfort care is also an important part of the treatment regimen. Comfort care is ongoing and will need to be adjusted as the disease progresses.
Comfort Care Strategies:
- Minimize big changes in the patient’s life, such as moving to a different home
- Find calming strategies or comfort items for the patient
- Create a safe and calm environment
Caregivers and relatives should understand behavioral changes including aggression, fear, depression and irritability are symptoms of the disease and should not be taken personally.
The following medications have been approved by the FDA for treatment of Alzheimer’s symptoms. They may be used separately or in conjunction with others to manage symptoms of the disease.
- citalopram – (Celexa)
- fluoxetine – (Prozac)
- paroxetine – (Paxil)
No single method of prevention exists for Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s is a complex disease with few known causes and even fewer known preventative methods. Though no single prevention tip can be given, doctors encourage people to live a “brain-healthy” lifestyle in an effort to delay the symptoms of Alzheimer’s.
A brain-healthy lifestyle includes regular exercise, eating a healthy diet, engaging in mental stimulation, getting quality sleep, learning to manage stress, and maintaining an active social life.
You can turn to these resources for more Alzheimer’s support and information.
The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America – http://www.alzfdn.org/AboutAlzheimers/symptoms.html
The Alzheimer’s Association – http://www.alz.org/alzheimersdiseasewhatisalzheimers.asp