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What should you know about Alzheimer’s disease?

April 17, 2024

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. Symptoms begin with a mild form of memory loss. It’s possible that patients also lose the ability to carry conversations and respond to their environments due to memory loss. Alzheimer’s affects the part of our brains that controls our memory, thought process, and language functions. It is difficult for an individual suffering from Alzheimer’s to continue living life as normal. Day-to-day tasks that were once simple are now challenging. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), “the number of people living with the disease doubles every 5 years beyond age 65.” Early-onset Alzheimer’s disease may affect young people aged 30-40; however, it is more likely to appear with age. While there is no known cure for Alzheimer’s, there is a possibility of improved quality of life with early diagnosis and treatments. It is our goal to educate our readers to ensure they have the best chance of either caring for themselves or their loved ones.   

Understanding Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia 

It can be difficult for many people to differentiate between Alzheimer’s and dementia since Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia. There are similarities; however, there are differences as well. Dementia is a group of symptoms, which typically include memory loss, confusion and needing assistance with daily tasks, problems with language and understanding others, and changes in behavior. Dementia symptoms will appear mild at first; however, they will worsen over time. Alzheimer’s is a physical disease, which means there is actual physical damage to the brain. Alzheimer’s begins before symptoms start to appear. In the early stages, symptoms of Alzheimer’s present as mild. People living with early-stage Alzheimer’s can go about their day-to-day lives without much impairment. This is called mild cognitive impairment (MCI).

At this stage, it is not possible to say for sure if symptoms are a result of Alzheimer’s disease. However, Alzheimer’s develops into dementia when the damage is too much. Typically, Alzheimer’s first shows signs in the part of the brain responsible for memory. However, that is not always true. There are rare cases where the disease begins in other parts of the brain. This is called atypical Alzheimer’s. There are forms of dementia other than Alzheimer’s. Dementia is a general term used for a series of symptoms such as memory loss, language, problem-solving, and other issues involving the thought process. Dementia is not a single disease. There are several diseases grouped under the term “dementia” such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease dementia, and vascular dementia.  

A genetic history does increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Having a family member diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease does increase the risk factor, especially if they have early-onset Alzheimer’s. However, over half the people suffering with Alzheimer’s had late-onset Alzheimer’s and no form of family history. Environmental, or non-genetic causes, can lead to Alzheimer’s. Head injuries, diet, exercise, and a healthy lifestyle can lead to an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. Unfortunately, scientists are unsure how or why these factors interact to affect the disease.   

Symptoms and Progression  

There are several early signs of Alzheimer’s. We have previously discussed many of them previously including memory loss, difficult performing familiar tasks, problems with language, disorientation of time and place, poor or decreased judgement, problems with abstract thinking, misplacing things, change in mood and behavior, changes in personality, and loss of initiative.  

The early stages of Alzheimer’s are mild. Common difficulties include coming up with the right word or name, struggling with plans and organization, and forgetting recently learned information. The middle stages are moderate. People at this stage might start forgetting their personal history, experience confusion about their whereabouts, and feel withdrawn. The late stages of Alzheimer’s are more severe. Symptoms of this stage require constant monitoring, difficulty communicating, and limited physical abilities.     

Early Diagnosis Can Make a Difference:  

  1. Access to treatment and support: While there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, there are medications and therapies that can help manage symptoms and improve quality of life. Early diagnosis allows individuals to access these interventions sooner, potentially slowing the disease’s progression.  
  1. Planning for the future: An early diagnosis provides time to make important decisions about finances, legal matters, and future care preferences. This can help ensure the person’s wishes are respected and ease the burden on family members. 
  1. Emotional and social benefits: A diagnosis can help alleviate anxiety and confusion about the changes being experienced. It also allows for open communication with family and friends, fostering support networks.  
  1. Participation in clinical trials: Early-stage patients are more likely to qualify for clinical trials of new medications and therapies, potentially contributing to future advancements in Alzheimer’s research.  

Overall, an early diagnosis empowers individuals diagnosed with Alzheimer’s to take charge of their condition, plan, and improve their quality of life. If you are concerned about yourself or someone you know experiencing memory changes, it’s important to talk to a healthcare professional.      

 

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