Alzheimer’s disease is often difficult to distinguish because the early signs closely resemble natural signs of aging.
What is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s is a disease of the brain gradually destroying the ability to remember, reason, imagine and learn. The condition progresses over time.
There are 100 billion nerve cells in the brain. Each of these cells joins with others to form “communication networks.” Alzheimer’s disease prevents some of these cells from operating correctly, although scientists are unsure why. As the damage spreads, the cells cannot function and eventually die.
During normal aging, most people’s brains develop plaques (deposits of a protein fragment) and tangles (fibers of another protein). It has been discovered during autopsy people suffering from Alzheimer’s have significantly more plaques and tangles. Scientists believe this may play a role in blocking nerve cell communication.
Some risk factors for Alzheimer’s include the following:
- Increasing age
- Family history and genetics
- Being of African-American or Latino descent
- Serious head injury
The Alzheimer’s Association identifies 10 warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease to watch for:
- Memory loss that disrupts daily life
- Challenges in solving problems
- Difficulty completing familiar tasks
- Confusion with time or place
- Trouble understanding visual images or spatial relationships
- Trouble speaking or writing
- Misplacing things
- Decreased or poor judgment
- Withdrawal from work or social activities
- Changes in mood or personality
Diagnosis and Treatment
The first step is to take the person you are concerned about to a physician. There is no specific type of doctor for this disease, but in some cases, you may be referred to a specialist such as a neurologist or psychologist. Your local Alzheimer’s Association chapter can assist you in locating the proper physician.
At the doctor’s office, the patient will undergo a physical exam, diagnostic testing and a neurological exam. If diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, the patient will likely be prescribed a cholinesterase inhibitor and/or memantine. Taking vitamin E may also be recommended.
Research shows that keeping the brain healthy may help prevent Alzheimer’s. Take the following steps:
- Eat a healthy diet.
- Stay socially active.
- Avoid tobacco and excessive alcohol.
- Stimulate the brain with activities such as logic or word puzzles.
Alzheimer’s disease is devastating for both the patient and his or her loved ones. It can be especially difficult for the primary caretaker, so it is important to have a network of family and friends to lend a hand.
Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia that progressively erodes memory and creates behavioral problems. It currently affects an estimated 5.5 million people, with the vast majority being age 65 or older. However, the true number of undiagnosed cases is unknown. Sadly, there is no known cure for this disease, but there are organizations dedicated to finding one.
With that goal in mind, the Alzheimer’s Association raises awareness and funds to help research the disease, and care for and support those affected by it. If you or a loved one are living with signs of Alzheimer’s, or if you’re interested in finding ways to spread awareness, visit www.alz.org for caregiving resources and information.