Learn About Alzheimer’s
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, accounting for up to 80% percent of dementia cases. Dementia is a term used for a group of symptoms that include memory loss, loss of visual perception, difficulty with communication, trouble focusing or maintaining attention, and impaired reasoning and judgment. This disease is a condition that gets worse over time due to damaged brain cells and neural communication.
Previously many individuals believed that dementia and Alzheimer’s were normal parts of the aging process. Today we know that this is not the case. It is common to have some form of forgetfulness as we age, but the type of progressive memory loss and additional symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s disease are not a normal part of getting older. However, age is the most significant risk factor that is associated with developing this disorder. Most individuals who develop Alzheimer’s are over the age of 65.
Many times individuals who are suffering from potential symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease don’t realize that they have a problem. The symptoms of Alzheimer’s tend to be often clearer to family members or friends. If you or someone you love appears to be experiencing memory problems or other possible signs of Alzheimer’s, it is important to seek advice from a medical professional.
Although there is currently no cure for this disorder, there are newer medications available that can slow the progression of the disease and help delay the onset of certain symptoms and treatment can improve the quality of life for the individual and their caregivers.
It is estimated that about 7 million people in the U.S. currently have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. In the U.S. estimates of prevalence rates indicate that 1 in 8 of individuals over the age of 64 (15%) have Alzheimer’s disease, while nearly half of all those in the U.S. over the age of 84 suffer from this condition. Of all the individuals with Alzheimer’s, it has been estimated that 4% are 64 or younger, 6% are between the ages of 65 and 74, and 44% fall in the age range of 75 to 84, while 46% are over the age of 84.
Alzherimer’s and Co-Occurring Disorders
It is not uncommon for individuals with Alzheimer’s to have another medical condition or mental health problem. Some common medical conditions experienced by individuals with Alzheimer’s disease are cerebrovascular disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, stroke, coronary heart diseases, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, and cancer. In addition, people suffering from Alzheimer’s may experience:
- Intermittent explosive disorder
- Suicidal thoughts and behaviors
Causes and Risk Factors for Alzheimer’s
The majority of experts have come to believe that Alzheimer’s is caused by an interaction of environmental, genetic, and lifestyle elements that negatively affect the brain over time. There is evidence for some factors that appear to be linked to the development of this disorder which include:
Brain structure: Examinations of the brains of individuals who suffered from Alzheimer’s have shown the existence of two types of protein abnormalities. Plaques in the brain are clusters of protein that have built up in the spaces between nerve cells and interrupt neural communication, especially in areas related to memory. Tangles are twisted protein fibers which accumulate within the nerve cells in the brain, eventually destroying them.
Genetic: It has been recognized that Alzheimer’s runs in families and is passed down through generations. In addition, research has identified three particular gene mutations which are connected to the development of the disorder.
Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer’s
While different people experience the disorder in different ways, the first symptom noticed is usually the inability to recall newly learned information. Additional symptoms include:
- Loss of ability to complete familiar tasks
- Impaired judgment
- Difficulty walking
- Difficulty swallowing
- Difficulty solving problems
- Difficulty comprehending visual images and spatial connections
- Changes in mood and personality
- Increasing problems with remembering words when speaking or writing
- Losing things and being unable to retrace steps
- Memory loss
- Difficulty making plans
- Withdrawal from work or social activities
- Worsening confusion over events
- Unsupported suspicions about family, friends, and caretakers
- Behavior changes
- Difficulty speaking
Effects of Alzheimer’s
There are a number of effects of Alzheimer’s disease that not only impact the individual, but their family and caretakers as well. These may include:
- Financial difficulties when need for care becomes too great for individual to be able to remain at home
- Depression in caregivers
- Inability to let others know when in discomfort or pain
- Inability to report the symptoms of another illness
- Guilt and shame in family member over loss of control with loved one
- Constant high stress levels in caregivers who live with individual
- Increased need for health care due to multiple physical ailments in caregiver
- Inability to comply with self-care instructions and treatment plan
- Increased vulnerability to developing pneumonia and other infections
- Injuries due to falling or failure to remember a previously known danger
- Increasing difficulty with balance, which can result in accidents
- Difficulties controlling bowel and bladder functions
- Problematic relationships with family members
- A sense of loss of self