Signs & Symptoms of Alzheimer’s

The Signs of Alzheimer's

Understanding the signs of Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer’s disease is an irreversible and slowly progressive disease of the brain that systematically destroys memory and cognitive skills, and in its latest stages, the ability to carry out even the simplest daily tasks. Often used interchangeably with dementia, Alzheimer’s disease is not the only cause for dementia, a general term for memory loss and other intellectual abilities that are serious enough to impact activities of daily living. In fact, Alzheimer’s disease accounts for between 50% and 80% of cases of dementia. While Alzheimer’s disease was once considered a normal part of the aging process, as it affects primarily older adults, it is now known that Alzheimer’s is NOT a normal part of the aging process.

Alzheimer’s disease causes the connections between neurons and the neurons themselves to slowly deteriorate and die, which leads to progressive, steady decline in mental function and memory. Current research into management of Alzheimer’s disease involves treatment strategies that can lead to a temporary reduction of symptoms to allow for maximum function and independence as long as possible. As early detection and treatment can delay the symptoms of the disease, it’s important that people who have Alzheimer’s disease are diagnosed and treated promptly. The ten warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease include:

  1. Memory loss severe enough that it disrupts daily life
  2. Trouble in planning or solving problems
  3. Difficulties completing familiar tasks at home, work, or during fun activities
  4. Confusion as to time or place
  5. Difficulties understanding visual and spatial relationships
  6. New problems with words in speaking, writing, or both
  7. Misplacing objects and losing the ability to retrace his or her steps
  8. Decreased or poor judgment
  9. Withdrawal from work or social activities
  10. Changes in mood or personality

Unfortunately, while there is no current cure for Alzheimer’s disease, there are a great deal of support services for both people who have Alzheimer’s disease and their loved ones.

Statistics

Statistics for Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States; one in three seniors die of Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia. In 2013, an estimated 5.2 million Americans of all ages had Alzheimer’s disease, a number expected to grow exponentially over the next twenty years.

Causes & Risk Factors

Causes & risk factors for Alzheimer’s

Researchers tend to believe that Alzheimer’s disease is caused by a number of risk factors working together with environmental causes. The most common risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease include:

Genetic: People who have a family history of Alzheimer’s disease, most notably those who have a parent or sibling with the disease are at a greater risk for developing the disorder.

Physical: The most common risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease is advancing age. The likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease approximately doubles every five years past the age of 65 until age 85, when the risk for developing the disorder reaches 50%. As Alzheimer’s disease is a brain disorder, there are two types of abnormalities seen in the brains of people who have Alzheimer’s disease: plaques and tangles. Plaques are clumps of beta-amyloid protein that destroy brain cells and interfere with proper cell-to-cell communication. Tangles of tau protein abnormally twist inside brain cells, leading to failure in the transportation of nutrients into the brain cells.

Risk Factors:

  • Mild cognitive impairment
  • Being female
  • Past head trauma
  • Hypertension
  • Lack of exercise
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Poorly controlled diabetes
  • Lack of social engagement
  • Smoking
  • Down Syndrome

Protective Factors:

Alzheimer’s disease has both risk factors and protective factors; risk factors increase the likelihood of developing this disease while protective factors may decrease the risk for developing Alzheimer’s. Protective factors include:

  • Lifelong learning and engagement
  • Stimulating job
  • Mentally challenging leisure activities
  • Frequent social interactions
  • Higher levels of formal education

Symptoms

Symptoms of Alzheimer’s

As Alzheimer’s generally affects people over the age of sixty who may already be experiencing normal cognitive changes as a result of the aging process, it can be challenging to know when a person has gone from age-related memory changes to developing Alzheimer’s disease. It’s important to know the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease as early diagnosis produces the best results. The most common symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease include:

Behavioral Symptoms:

  • Behavioral changes
  • Repeats statements and questions, not realizing they’ve asked the question before
  • Routinely misplaces possessions, often putting them in illogical places
  • Challenges responding appropriately to everyday problems, such as getting lost in an unfamiliar area
  • Difficulties planning, organizing, and executing everyday tasks
  • Withdrawing from once-enjoyable social situations
  • Loss of inhibitions
  • Increasing social isolation

Physical Symptoms:

  • Trouble speaking or recalling a word
  • Challenges concentrating and thinking
  • Challenges using concepts like numbers; inability to recognize and use numbers properly
  • Difficulties communicating to make needs known
  • Difficulties with ambulation
  • Falls
  • Difficulty chewing, swallowing food and drinks
  • Changes in sleeping habits
  • Changes in eating habits

Cognitive Symptoms:

  • Difficulty recalling newly learned information
  • Forgetting conversations, events, and appointments without later remembering them
  • Disorientation
  • Deepening confusion about events
  • Difficulties remembering family members, everyday objects, and eventually who they are

Psychosocial Symptoms:

  • Anxiety
  • Irritability and aggressiveness
  • Depression
  • Mood swings
  • Personality changes
  • Unfounded paranoid suspicions about family and friends
  • Delusions

Effects

Effects Alzheimer’s can have

As Alzheimer’s disease does not yet have a cure, the effects of long-term Alzheimer’s disease affect nearly all areas of an individual’s life. The most commonly noted effects of Alzheimer’s disease include:

  • Placement in supportive living environment to allow for maximum safety
  • Decreased ability to communicate pain
  • Diminished ability to care for oneself
  • Decreased ability to report symptoms of another illness
  • Decreased ability to follow a treatment plan
  • Challenges describing or reporting medications side effects
  • Aspiration pneumonia caused by aspiration of food or liquids into the lungs
  • Urinary incontinence may lead to usage of urinary catheter, which can increase risks for urinary tract infections
  • Risk for falls
  • Serious injuries from falls, such as severe head trauma and fractures of the bones

Co-Occurring Disorders

Alzheimer’s & co-occurring disorders

As Alzheimer’s disease affects the elderly, this population already experiences a multitude of health-related problems. Common co-occurring disorders include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Substance abuse
  • Alcoholism

Our family has learned so much from Highland and we are in such a better place now.

– James F.