Recognizing Alzheimer's

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, accounting for 60-80% of dementia cases that are seen.  Alzheimer's disease is an irreversible, progressive brain disorder that gradually destroys a person’s memory, thinking ability, and other important mental functions. It is the most common cause of dementia in older adults. People often develop the condition around their mid-60s. With Alzheimer's disease, the brain cells degenerate and die. This causes a slow reduction in memory and mental function. Alzheimer's disease is currently listed as the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. It is estimated that about five million people in the United States have Alzheimer's disease.

One of the trademarks of Alzheimer's disease is the formation of plaques, or abnormal collections of beta-amyloid proteins, in the brain.  The second hallmark, is tangles of tau protein which is suspected to clog up dying brain cells.  In the past, it has been it has been only the plaques that could be spotted.  Now new imaging can spot the tau tangles in people who are still alive and not yet diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.  The exact causes of Alzheimer’s are still unknown but being able to spot these two features can help identify people who might develop Alzheimer’s and hopefully target preventative treatment for them.

The progression of this disease, and the deterioration of those who suffer from it is ever more worrisome as there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease. This disease is not a part of normal aging, and can worsen over time.  Early symptoms are of Alzheimer’s include:

1.     Difficulty remembering names and events

2.     Depression

3.     Confusion

4.     Difficulty carrying out daily activities

5.     Trouble dealing with numbers

6.     Difficulty organizing thoughts

7.     Forget recently learned information

8.     Forget how to do routine activities

9.     Misplacing items

10.  Trouble expressing your thoughts

11.  Struggle with words with which you didn’t before

12.  Improper interpretation of time and space

13.  You become less social, anxious, or fearful

The signs and symptoms of Alzheimer's disease may vary depending on the stage of the disease.  The aforementioned are signs of early symptoms of the disease. People may have mild, moderate, or severe symptoms. The signs and symptoms of mild Alzheimer’s disease include wandering and getting lost, trouble handling money and paying bills, repeating questions, taking longer to complete normal daily tasks, losing things or misplacing them in odd places, personality and behavior changes. The signs and symptoms of moderate Alzheimer’s disease include increased memory loss and confusion, problems recognizing family and friends, inability to learn new things, difficulty carrying out multistep tasks such as getting dressed, problems coping with new situations, hallucinations, delusions, and paranoia, and impulsive behavior. The signs and symptoms of severe Alzheimer’s disease include inability to communicate, weight loss, seizures, skin infections, difficulty swallowing, groaning, moaning, or grunting, increased sleeping, and lack of control of bowel and bladder.