Alzheimer’s is much more common than many people realize. In fact, over 5 million Americans currently live with the condition1. Alzheimer’s is a brain disease and a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking, and behavior. The symptoms of Alzheimer’s usually develop slowly and get worse over time becoming severe enough to interfere with normal day to day activities. Here are a few things to know about Alzheimer’s:
Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of aging
Sometimes it is assumed that Alzheimer’s is a normal part of aging. This is incorrect. While age is the greatest known risk factor for the development of Alzheimer’s, even young people can develop the condition. Approximately 200,000 Americans under the age of 65 have early-onset Alzheimer’s disease1. The symptoms of Alzheimer’s like memory loss or forgetfulness are also a normal part of aging. But, the difference is in the severity of the symptoms.
Alzheimer’s usually worsens over time
Despite medical advances in the treatment of Alzheimer’s, it is still a disease that gets progressively worse over time. As it progresses, symptoms become more pronounced. In the early stages of the disease, memory loss is mild. However, as the Alzheimer’s progresses individuals usually lose the ability to
- carry on a conversation,
- respond to their environment, and
- remember important people, events, and places.
The most common early symptom of Alzheimer’s is the most difficult one to spot
The most common early symptom of Alzheimer’s is difficulty remembering newly learned information. As we age, it is perfectly normal to forget little things like birthdays or anniversaries. With Alzheimer’s, there is a specific problem in recalling new information.
Because forgetfulness is a common occurrence in the elderly, it is difficult to know if these symptoms are normal aging or a sign of Alzheimer’s1.
As Alzheimer’s advances, it leads to increasingly severe symptoms including
- mood and behavior changes,
- deepening confusion about events, and
- difficulty speaking, swallowing, and walking.
It is usually when these symptoms occur that a potential diagnosis of Alzheimer’s is possible.
The symptoms of Alzheimer’s can mimic other conditions
Apart from memory loss, many other symptoms of Alzheimer’s are common to other medical conditions. Different illnesses and infections can also cause memory loss, confusion, and changes in behavior. For this reason, the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s usually comes late. This matters because the earlier the diagnosis is made, the better the treatment options and choices. If in doubt about any symptoms that may you notice in a family member or friend, speak to them to know how long they’ve had the symptoms. If appropriate, then speak to a family doctor.
Today, Alzheimer’s is at the forefront of biomedical research
Because Alzheimer’s affects so many individuals including
- friends, and
- loved ones of the sufferers,
the past few decades has seen an explosion of new research in the diagnosis, management, and treatment of Alzheimer’s. 90% of what we know about Alzheimer’s has been discovered in the last 20 years . New research is carried out across the country and worldwide to help find a cure. The hope is that a better understanding of the disease will lead to new treatments1.
There are hundreds of resources for Alzheimer’s sufferers
Once diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, the next steps should include
- getting better educated about the disease,
- finding support services, and
- planning for the future.
Be proactive by:
- Finding out about local, national, and international online resources, such as educational workshops.
- Join local support groups and discussion boards for both diagnosed individuals and family members.
- Speak to your doctor about any resources in your area such as adult day programs or home health agencies.
For anyone with Alzheimer’s, the goal is to help people remain independent for as long as possible and to keep up their standard of living. For carers of those with Alzheimer’s, there are usually many local or state agencies that provide help.
1- Alzheimer’s Association. Public Health Alzheimer’s Resource Center. http://www.alz.org/publichealth/what-you-need-to-know.asp
2- PBS. Signs of Alzheimers disease: 10 things you didn’t know.http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/signs-of-alzheimers-disease-10-things-you-should-know/