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Alzheimer's Care

Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer's Disease is the most common form of dementia. It involves the parts of the brain that control thought, memory and language. According to the Alzheimer’s Association’s most recent statistics, 5.4 million Americans suffer from the disease, including 200,000 under the age of 65. Nearly half of Americans over 85 today are also diagnosed. It is estimated that by the year 2050, up to 16 million people will be living with Alzheimer’s.

Vascular dementia, resulting from stoke, is the second leading cause of dementia. It is essential to understand that dementia symptoms can also be caused by various other diseases, thyroid problems, drug interactions, depression, and even vitamin deficiencies. 

Everyone can expect cognitive changes as our bodies and brains age, but dementia and Alzheimer’s are not a normal consequence of aging. At least two of the following mental abilities must be significantly impaired to be considered dementia:
  • Memory
  • Communication and language
  • Ability to focus and pay attention
  • Reasoning and judgment
  • Visual perception

Family members and caregivers quickly recognize the hard realities of the disease, but people with memory loss or other symptoms of dementia often do not realize their functioning is impaired. People with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia who live alone are exposed to significantly higher risks—including inadequate self-care, malnutrition, wandering from home and being lost, falling, serious medical conditions left untreated, and accidental death. Half of the Alzheimer’s patients who are living alone do not have an identifiable caregiver.

Where to get help.

If you or a family member is suffering with symptoms of dementia, it is important to see a physician immediately. The symptoms may not be caused by Alzheimer’s and may be caused by a treatable condition where the symptoms can be reversed. Even if Alzheimer’s is diagnosed, early diagnosis allows you and your family to plan for the future. Early diagnosis also allows a person to get the maximum benefit from available treatments and provides an opportunity to volunteer for clinical trials or studies

If you need assistance finding a doctor with experience evaluating memory problems, contact your local Heritage Hall or your local Alzheimer’s Association chapter that can be located on the Alzheimer’s Association’s (alz.org) website.

Intervention methods are improving dramatically, and treatment options and sources of support can significantly improve quality of life. The Alzheimer’s Association provides two helpful internet resources you can connect with: 

ALZConnected introduces you to the Alzheimer’s Association’s message boards and online social networking community.

Alzheimer's Navigator is a web tool that creates customized action plans, based on answers you provide through short, online surveys.

How long can a person live with Alzheimer’s?

The course of the disease varies from person to person. On average, Alzheimer’s patients live from 8 to 10 years after they are diagnosed. However the disease can last for as many as 20 years.

What Causes Alzheimer’s?

Scientists do not yet fully understand what causes Alzheimer’s. There probably is not one single cause, but several factors that affect each person differently. Age is the most important known risk factor for Alzheimer’s. The number of people with the disease doubles every 5 years beyond age 65.

Scientists still need to learn a lot more about what causes Alzheimer’s. In addition to genetics and apoE, they are studying education, diet, environment, and viruses to learn what role they might play in the development of this disease.

What are the symptoms of Alzheimer’s?

Dementia and Alzheimer’s impacts the short-term memory. At first, symptoms may be only mild forgetfulness. People with Alzheimer’s may have trouble remembering recent events, activities, or the names of familiar people or things. Such difficulties usually are not serious enough to cause alarm. As time passes, they may forget how to do simple tasks, like brushing their teeth or combing their hair. They can no longer think clearly and may develop paranoia toward family, friends and caregivers. They also begin to have problems reading and writing. 

In the early stages, some of these symptoms are misleading, because the can also be indicative of other issues like head injuries, mild cognitive impairment, bad reactions to medicine and regular emotional difficulties associated with changes as we get older.

As the disease progresses, people with Alzheimer’s may become anxious or aggressive, or wander away from home. Eventually, patients need total care—exhibiting severe physical impairments like an inability to walk or even to speak or swallow. In the end stages of the disease, they often require a secure, and eventually even a locked environment specially designed for dementia patients.

The Alzheimer’s Associations promotes its list of the 10 warning signs of Alzheimer’s. Click here to view this list. 

How is Alzheimer’s Diagnosed?

In research done through autopsies of patients with mental illness, abnormal clumps (now called amyloid plaques) and tangled bundles of fibers (now called neurofibrillary tangles) were often discovered. Today, these plaques and tangles in the brain are considered hallmarks of Alzheimer’s, but these brain abnormalities can only be detected post-mortem in an autopsy. Therefore, doctors must make a diagnosis of "possible" or "probable" Alzheimer’s.

At specialized centers, doctors can diagnose Alzheimer’s correctly up to 90% of the time. Doctors use several tools to diagnose "probable" Alzheimer’s:
  • A complete medical history includes information about the person's general health, past medical problems, and any difficulties the person has carrying out daily activities.
  • Medical tests such as tests of blood, urine, or spinal fluid help the doctor find other possible diseases causing the symptoms. 
  • Neuropsychological tests measure memory, problem solving, attention, counting, and language. 
  • Brain scans allow the doctor to look at a picture of the brain to see if anything does not look normal. 

Information from the medical history and test results help the doctor rule out other possible causes of the person's symptoms. For example, thyroid problems, drug reactions, depression, brain tumors and blood vessel disease in the brain can cause Alzheimer’s-like symptoms. Some of these other conditions can be treated successfully.

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