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What is Alzheimer’s Disease?

Alzheimer’s Disease is a progressive neurologic disorder that causes the brain to shrink and brain cells to die. The disease begins in the parts of the brain involved in memory, including the entorhinal cortex and hippocampus, and later affects areas in the cerebral cortex, which are responsible for language, reasoning, and social behavior. Alzheimer’s disease slowly destroys memory and thinking skills and, eventually, the ability to carry out the simplest tasks. Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common cause of dementia.

Dementia vs Alzheimer’s

These terms are often used interchangeably, but they are actually different things. Dementia is not a specific disease;it is an overall term that describes a wide range of symptoms that impact a person’s ability to perform everyday activities. Alzheimer’s is the most well-known and common form of dementia but not everyone with dementia has Alzheimer’s disease.

Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer's Disease

Alzheimer’s Disease most commonly affects older adults, but it can also affect people in their 30s or 40s. When Alzheimer’s Disease occurs in someone under age 65, it is known as early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease.

Signs of Alzheimer’s Diseas

  • Memory loss that disrupts daily life
  • Difficulty completing familiar tasks
  • Losing track of the date or time of year
  • Trouble solving basic problems, such as paying bills
  • Misplacing things and not being able to retrace your steps
  • Withdrawal from work or social activities

Alzheimer’s Symptoms

  • New problems with finding words in speaking or writing
  • Forgetting things, particularly newly learned information
  • Asking for the same information over and over
  • Not knowing where you are and how you got there
  • Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
  • Decreased or poor judgment

 

Alzheimer's Stages

The discovery that you or a loved one has Alzheimer’s Disease can be an emotional experience. Whether you’re a family member or someone with the condition, this progressive disease will slowly affect your daily life. The first step to managing it is learning more about how Alzheimer’s progresses.

The Five Stages of Alzheimer’s DiseaseThere are five distinct stages associated with Alzheimer’s Disease, ranging from mild to severe.

Preclinical Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s Disease mainly affects older adults, over the age of 65. At this age, it’s common to have slight functional difficulties like forgetfulness, so someone at this stage may not even know they have the disease. Someone in this stage is fully independent so it may not be apparent to family or friends that there even is an issue. This stage can last for years or even decades.

Mild Cognitive Impairment Due To Alzheimer’s Disease
While this entire stage can last about seven years, the symptoms will slowly become clearer over a period of two to four years. Symptoms at this stage include getting lost when traveling a familiar route, finding it hard to remember the right words or names, or being unable to remember what you just read. Only people close to someone in this stage may notice these signs.

Mild Dementia Due To Alzheimer’s Disease
This stage lasts about two years and marks the beginning of Alzheimer’s as a diagnosable disease. You or your loved one will have more trouble with complex but everyday tasks, mood changes like withdrawal and denial will become more evident, and decreased emotional responses will also be more frequent, especially in challenging situations. It still may be possible for someone to recall important events, but they may ask for help with daily tasks like writing checks or buying groceries.

Moderate Dementia Due To Alzheimer’s Disease
This stage lasts about 1½ years and will require a lot more support. People in this stage will remember their own names and close family members, but major events as well as minor details can be difficult for them to recall. At this stage people cannot live independently as they will need help with a variety of everyday issues to keep their lives functioning and to keep them safe.

Severe Dementia Due To Alzheimer’s Disease
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, about 40% of people with Alzheimer’s will form contractures, or shortening and hardening of muscles, tendons, and other tissues. Body movements will become more rigid and can cause severe pain, and they will also develop infantile reflexes like sucking. At this stage, the person’s ability to respond to their environment is lost. They’ll need help with almost all their daily tasks, including eating or moving. Some people will become immobile during this stage. The most frequent cause of death in someone at this stage is pneumonia.

How is Alzheimer’s Disease Treated?

There’s no cure for Alzheimer’s, but there are treatments that may change the disease’s progression, and drug and non-drug options that may help treat symptoms. Understanding available options can help individuals living with the disease and their caregivers to cope with symptoms and improve quality of life.

Alzheimer’s Treatment Options
Non-drug treatments focus on treating the behavioral, psychological, and emotional symptoms of Alzheimer’s by changing the way you understand and interact with the person with the disease. These treatments include:

  • Behavior Assessment
  • Validation Therapy
  • Meaningful Activities
  • Physical Exercise
  • Brain Engagement

These approaches recognize that behavior is often a way of communicating for those with Alzheimer’s. The goal of non-drug approaches is to understand the meaning of the challenging behaviors and why they are present.

Drugs for Alzheimer’s
There are three classes of medications that have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease. Each has its own particular uses and drawbacks. It is best to speak to your doctor to identify the drug or drugs that may be right for your particular situation.