Alzheimer’s Disease is a form of dementia, the most common form in fact. Dementia is when a person loses mental capacity and abilities so severely that it impedes a person’s daily life. To be classified as Dementia the loss of mental capacity and ability also has to last at least 6 months and not be there from birth. Alzheimer’s disease is responsible for at least 50% of all dementia cases, likely more. Alzheimer’s patients suffer from a loss of cognitive function that can affect their ability to reason, plan, or even simply remember. Although Alzheimer’s generally affects someone in late adulthood, a few cases of early onset (pre-age 60) have been documented.
In early Alzheimer’s, the short-term memory is affected and symptoms include being unable to handle and keep track of money, repeating oneself frequently, personality changes, getting lost, and poor judgment. They may start misplacing things or having trouble finding the right words to express themselves. This stage lasts between 2-4 years on average. It can affect work performance and generally is the stage that leads up to and/or includes diagnosis.
In moderate Alzheimer’s, the areas of the brain that govern reasoning, sensory processing, and language diminish. These people often have trouble recognizing family members or understanding sequential order (and thus have trouble doing things with multiple steps) and may experience delusions or hallucinations. This stage tends to last about 2-10 years depending on the person. Attention span shortens, and these people have trouble finishing thoughts and have trouble with reading and numbers. Often they become easily agitated and aggressive, possibly due to fairly constant disorientation. Their behavior becomes erratic and unpredictable, and they may wander off alone and forget how to get back home. Sometimes they become restless at night, and a person who has advanced this far requires constant supervision.
In advanced cases of Alzheimer’s, patients are bedridden and completely unable to communicate. They cannot control their bladders or bowels, have difficulty swallowing, and often lose weight even when their diets are kept healthy. These people usually wind up dying of malnutrition or dehydration because their brains can no longer run their bodies.
Scientists and doctors are not sure yet what causes Alzheimer’s Disease. It is a very complex disease which seems to develop over a series of years. Early-onset Alzheimer’s (onset anywhere from the 30’s to late 50’s) appears to be passed along via a mutated gene. However, most people who develop the disease have “late-onset” Alzheimer’s – that is, Alzheimer’s after age 60. “10% of people over 65 years of age and 50% of those over 85 years of age have Alzheimer’s disease (“Alzheimer’s Disease Causes, … 3).
Alzheimer’s disease is damage to the brain caused by plaques and tangles in the brain tissue. Plaques are normally harmless, however in Alzheimer’s they build up between neurons and prevent brain cells from communicating effectively with one another. Tangles are when a protein in the brain become twisted and thus cause themselves and other cells around them to die. Why the tangles even develop unknown, however the way the cells process proteins seems to be defective. These strange structures are consistent with all Alzheimer’s patients.
There are only about four drugs on the market that help with Alzheimer’s, and they neither cure the disease or repair what damage has already done. “…these drugs don’t change the underlying disease process and may help only for a few months to a few years (Alzheimer’s Disease Fact Sheet, 3).” A person often wonders what they can do for a loved one who suffers from this disease. The most important thing a caregiver can do is try to eliminate as much stress as possible from the patient’s daily life. Try to keep routines and familiar environments and let the person with Alzheimer’s be as independent as they can manage.
The caregiver should only do things for the patient the things they cannot do for themselves anymore. Try to keep the amount of new people and places to a minimum, and keep an eye out for circumstances that prompt bad reactions. More importantly, celebrate with the patient the things they can do for themselves and try to listen to them. Be sure to remember that their actions and behaviors are not directed at you! Try not to argue or show the patient when you are frustrated, as it will only make them more stressed, which is not the goal. “New situations, noise, large groups of people, being rushed or pressed to remember, or being asked to do complicated tasks can cause anxiety. As a person with Alzheimer’s becomes upset, the ability to think clearly declines even more.
Alzheimer’s disease is one of the cruelest diseases out there because the sufferer loses absolutely everything due to a loss of function in the brain. They lose their sense of self, their memories, their ability to control situations, their independence, and finally, their lives. More research is being done daily on finding the cures and causes of Alzheimer’s disease.
“Alzheimer’s Disease Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment.”
“Alzheimer’s Disease Fact Sheet.”
“What is Alzheimer’s?”