Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer’s is a brain disease that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior.  Symptoms usually develop slowly and get worse over time, becoming severe enough to interfere with daily tasks. 

Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, a general term for memory loss and other intellectual abilities serious enough to interfere with daily life.  Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 50 to 70% of dementia cases. 

Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of aging, although the greatest known risk factor is increasing age, and the majority of people with Alzheimer’s are 65 and older.  This disease worsens over time, i.e., it is a progressive disease, where symptoms gradually worsen over a number of years. 

Alzheimer’s has no current cure, but treatments for symptoms are available and research continues. 

10 signs of Alzheimer’s

  1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life
  2. Challenges in planning or solving problems
  3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure
  4. Confusion with time or place
  5. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
  6. New problems with words or speaking or writing
  7. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
  8. Decreased or poor judgment
  9. Withdrawal from work or social activities
  10. Changes in mood and personality.

Memory problems are one of the first signs of Alzheimer’s disease.  Some people with memory problems have a condition called amnestic mild cognitive impairment (MCI).  People with this condition have more memory problems than normal for people their age, but symptoms are not as severe as those with Alzheimer’s.  More people with MCI, compared with those without MCI, go on to develop Alzheimer’s.

Other changes may also signal the very early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.  Brain imaging and biomarker studies of people with MCI and those with a family history of Alzheimer’s are beginning to detect early changes in the brain like those seen in Alzheimer’s. 

As Alzheimer’s disease progresses, memory loss continues and changes in other cognitive abilities appear.  Problems can include getting lost, trouble handling money and paying bills, repeating questions, taking longer to complete normal daily tasks, poor judgment, and small mood and personality changes.  People often are diagnosed in this stage.
In the Moderate stage of Alzheimer’s, damage occurs in areas of the brain that control language, reasoning, sensory processing and conscious thought.  Memory loss and confusion increase, and people begin to have problems recognizing family and friends.  They may be unable to learn new things, carry out tasks that involve multiple steps (such as getting dressed), or cope with new situations.  They may have hallucinations, delusions, and paranoia, and may behave impulsively.

Severe Alzheimer’s, the disease’s final stage, bring the spread throughout the brain of plaques and tangles and brain tissue has shrunk significantly.  People with severe Alzheimer’s cannot communicate and are completely dependent on others for their care.  Near the end, the person may be in bed most or all of the time as the body shuts down.

Scientists don’t yet fully understand what causes Alzheimer’s.  The more they learn about the disease, the more they realize that genes play an important role in the development of this devastating disease. 

Sources: www.ALZ.org and www.NIH.gov