Alzheimer’s Disease- Major Symptoms and Stages
According to Health Line, Alzheimer’s is a progressive form of dementia and dementia is an umbrella term that encompasses conditions triggered by illnesses or brain injuries that have a negative impact on one’s thinking, behavior, and memory.
Unfortunately, these shifts can impede one’s daily life. As noted by The Alzheimer’s Association, 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases are of Alzheimer’s. Though most people are diagnosed with it after the age of 65, it may also develop earlier (in their 40s or 50s) and this is known as early onset Alzheimer’s. Currently, there is still no cure for this illness; however, there are beneficial treatments that can slow down its advancement.
It is important to note that the risk of Alzheimer’s elevates with aging, but it is not a normal part of it. In the later stages of the illness, a person who has Alzheimer may not be able to reason or communicate with people around them and will therefore need daily full-time care.
To make the public more aware of this debilitating disease, this article will be focused on presenting its main symptoms and stages, as well as other important aspects like treatment options.
What Are the Main Symptoms of Alzheimer’s?
Memory-related issues are the most common first signs of Alzheimer’s, as explained on Health Line. It is worth pointing out that not everyone is affected by Alzheimer’s in the same way and they will go through different symptoms at different times and differently. Here are the remaining most common symptoms that an Alzheimer’s sufferer may experience:
- Being confused about times or/and places
- Inability to find words with speaking
- Misplacing objects
- Personality changes
- Poor and bad decisions
- Scattered thoughts
- Repeating things
- Forgetting things and being unable to recall them later
- Problems with numerical calculations
- Poor capacity to respond to everyday issues
- Changes in mood
- Distrusting others and paranoia
What Happens during Alzheimer’s?
Alzheimer’s disease harms the brain and its cells, which consequently causes brain shrinkage and in an Alzheimer’s patients, there are usually two abnormalities in their brain, i.e. tangles and plaques. Tau is a protein and a system which transfers nutrients through the brain. In people with this disease, as emphasized on Health Line, threads of this protein collect in the cells of the brain and are known as tangles which impede the proper flow of nutrients there. When it comes to plaques, these are protein clumps which prevent the proper communication between cells in the brain, which further damages the cells and can lead to their death.
Risk Factors of Alzheimer’s
Although the main trigger of Alzheimer’s is not yet known, as pointed out by The Alzheimer’s Association, scientists have found specific risk factors that elevate one’s chance of this illness. There are some that cannot be changed and other ones that can be influenced. Let us find out more about the former ones first:
The APOE gene plays its role in late onset of Alzheimer’s, but having it is not decisive factor in whether one gets Alzheimer’s or not. Most of the cases of early onset are a result of changes in specific genes, which are inherited. What’s more, in people with Down syndrome, the risk of Alzheimer’s is much higher, probably due to their extra copy of chromosome 21.
This is one of the greatest risk factors for Alzheimer’s and most individuals who have Alzheimer’s are 65 or older.
- Family history
This is another strong contributing factor to Alzheimer’s, as noted by The Alzheimer’s Association. Hence, people with a sibling or a parent with Alzheimer’s have a greater likelihood of developing the disease.
Now, let us check out the latter or the factors that may be influenced through our lifestyle and wellness choices, as well as our general health:
- Head injuries
Alzheimer’s is strongly linked with head injuries, particularly when trauma happens repeatedly or it includes a loss of consciousness. There is a way to protect yourself from head injuries that may lead to Alzheimer’s like wearing a helmet when doing sports or when riding a bike or a motorbike, buckling your seatbelt when driving, and proofing your home to minimize the risk of falls that could cause head injuries.
- Cardiovascular problems
According to research, brain health is closely associated with the cardiovascular health due to the fact that the brain is nourished by the body’s most abundant network of blood vessels and the heart has the function of pumping blood through these blood vessels into the brain. Hence, the risk of vascular dementia is much higher if one has been diagnosed with illnesses like heart disease, as well as stroke, hypertension, diabetes, and high cholesterol.
- Lifestyle habits
As emphasized on Health Line, some poor lifestyle choices like smoking, poor diet, and obesity can increase one’s risk of Alzheimer’s.
How Is Alzheimer’s Diagnosed?
According to Mayo Clinic, Alzheimer’s is diagnosed through sets of tests that assess memory impairment and other thinking skills, functional abilities, and changes in behavior. Moreover, they also perform tests to exclude other possible reasons for impairment. And, they evaluate the symptoms reported by the patient or his/her family or friends. Without doubt, an exact diagnosis of Alzheimer’s is a pivotal step in ensuring proper treatment, therapy, and care, as well education and plans for the future.
Usually, it is a primary doctor, a neurologist, or a geriatrician that will review your medical history, medication history, and the symptoms (in addition to the tests). The doctor may also suggest lab tests, memory testing, or brain-imaging tests like MRIs, CT scans, or PETs. Though there is currently no cure for this disease that conventional medicine can offer, an early diagnosis is pivotal because the therapy may slow down the decline and one may also participate in clinical trials. Your team of doctors and caregivers will provide you with crucial methods to better your living surrounding, to create your routines, and manage the changes in skills and thus, effectively lower the negative effect that this illness can have on your life, which is not the case with undiagnosed Alzheimer’s patients.
Stages of Alzheimer’s
Taking into consideration that Alzheimer’s is a progressive illness, in most cases, the symptoms tend to become worse as the time goes by, as noted on Health Line. This progression is divided into the following seven phases:
One may not experience any signs at this stage, but they may have been diagnosed with the illness early on the basis of family history
This is when the earliest symptoms like forgetfulness begin to appear
At this point, one may experience mild mental and physical impairments like poorer memory and concentration
This is the most usual stage at which Alzheimer’s is diagnosed and the loss of memory and incapacity to perform daily tasks is visible
This stage is characterized by moderate and severe symptoms that call for help from caregivers and family members
This phase demands for assistance to the individual for basic tasks like eating and putting on clothes
This is the final and severest stage of Alzheimer’s and it often includes loss of facial expressions and speech
Treatment Options for Alzheimer’s
As seen on Mayo Clinic, the currently available meds for Alzheimer’s can be of great aid for the memory signs and other cognitive changes. There are two types of meds that are prescribed to address the cognitive symptoms of Alzheimer’s, i.e. cholinesterase inhibitors and memantine. The former betters the communication between brain cells by supplying you with acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter, which is depleted during Alzheimer’s. The latter works on improving the brain cell communication and reduces the advancement of symptoms in moderate and severe Alzheimer’s.
Alzheimer’s patients are also advised to make some lifestyle changes, according to Health Line, that can help them cope with the symptoms easier. Here are several useful tips to improve your quality of life if you have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s:
- Make your home and environment safe and supportive
- Keep your wallet, keys, and ID in the same place
- Limit the amount of mirrors in your home (images in mirrors can be scary or confusing for Alzheimer’s sufferers)
- Wear shoes with good traction so that you avoid falls and slips
- Come up with a suitable routine and stick to it
- Make sure your phone is always in your pocket and that the GPS is turned on (so that your family and friends can find you in case you get lost)
- Photos and other meaningful items should be placed in view
- Exercise regularly (consult your physician or neurologist for the safest and most useful workouts for you)
- Lead a healthier and balanced diet based on whole foods
- Make sure you always drink a lot of liquids