Many people are familiar with Alzheimer’s disease, because they have had the devastating experience of seeing a family member or loved one struggle with it. However, even people who have encountered the disease in a loved one may not fully understand what Alzheimer’s is, how it affects the brain, and how it develops in the first place. By increasing public awareness of this disease, it may be possible to encourage better Alzheimer’s prevention in young people as well as more dedicated research and funding aimed at finding a cure for this disease.
What is Alzheimer’s disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive brain disease, meaning that it will cause worsening symptoms as the brain physically degenerates and develops abnormal structures called plaques and tangles. The most prominent symptom of Alzheimer’s is dementia, though you should not use the terms “dementia” and “Alzheimer’s” interchangeably. Dementia is always a symptom of another condition rather than a condition itself, and Alzheimer’s is the leading cause of this symptom in older adults.
What are the signs?
The earliest signs of Alzheimer’s disease are often confused with normal signs of aging. That’s because when the disease is in its early stages, symptoms may only cause a minor disruption in daily life, such as with small memory lapses or the occasional angry outburst. However, symptoms can develop rapidly and become dramatically worse. Some of the most heartbreaking experiences with Alzheimer’s come when a parent forgets a child’s name or fails to recognize his or her grandchildren during a visit. But there are some concerning symptoms that are likely to occur sooner. These include:
- Disruptive memory loss – For many people, it’s tough to distinguish between normal memory loss and dementia-related memory loss. Memory loss should be most concerning when someone cannot remember that they forgot something. For example, not remembering a conversation with a loved one from the day before. This is different from not remembering the name of a restaurant but accurately recalling it later.
- Social withdrawal – In the early stages of Alzheimer’s, it’s not uncommon to see a withdrawal from normal social activities or favorite hobbies. There may also be marked changes in mood and personality, such as an increase in fearful or anxious behavior. Furthermore, you may notice a decline in personal care. For example, the person may stop shaving or combing his or her hair or fail to shower or bathe regularly. These changes could also indicate a problem such as depression or anxiety disorder, but these issues should also be met with medical attention.
- Financial distress – Poor decision making is a frequent indicator of Alzheimer’s, and that usually translates to money trouble. Unfortunately, the elderly are a prime target for telemarketing scams, and those with Alzheimer’s are more vulnerable to giving away large sums of money. You might also see that payments for multiple accounts are overdue or that the person’s finances are generally a mess.
- Loss of spatial awareness – Another common effect of Alzheimer’s-related dementia is confusion about time and place. For example, an individual may not recognize a location he or she has been to before, or the person may be frequently unaware of the current date and time.
With any of the above symptoms, it’s much easier to notice them in someone else than it is to recognize them in yourself. That’s why it’s so important to maintain strong connections to family and loved ones as you get older and speak up if you do see the signs of Alzheimer’s in a loved one.
Is treatment possible?
Currently, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, and damage that the disease has caused cannot be undone. Treatment primarily focuses on delaying the progression of the disease and maintaining a higher quality of life coping with existing symptoms. That’s why early recognition of symptoms and an early diagnosis are so critical.
Is Alzheimer’s preventable?
The causes of Alzheimer’s disease are not fully known, though it does appear to run in families. There are also many known risk-factors that can increase your risk of the disease, so while you may not be able to completely prevent it, you can take positive steps. Among the most essential is staying active both physically and mentally. Along with exercise and social activity, you should focus on eating a healthy diet, avoiding drugs and alcohol, and caring for both your physical and mental wellbeing with regular preventive visits with your doctor.
While it’s easy to say that you need to see the doctor more often, it’s not always easy to find the time. MeMD is here to change that with convenient online visits with licensed medical providers and behavioral health specialists.