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What is Alzheimer’s Disease? 10 Signs and Care for Your Loved One

Jennifer Morris-Pugliese

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Alzheimer's is a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking, and behavior. It is a degenerative disease of the central nervous system characterized by a progressive, irreversible deterioration of the general intellectual functioning. It is one of the most common causes of cognitive impairment.

 

With Alzheimer's disease and other dementia, problems with memory, judgment, and thought processes it is hard for a person to work and take part in day-to-day family and social life. Changes in mood and personality also may occur. These changes can result in a loss of self-control and other problems. Although there is no cure for Alzheimer's disease at this time, it may be possible to relieve some of the symptoms, such as wandering and incontinence. Medications are available that can slow the worsening of the symptoms and improve the quality of life for those with Alzheimer’s. The earlier the diagnosis the more likely it is that symptoms will respond to treatment.

Who Is Affected?

The chances of getting Alzheimer's disease increase with age. It usually occurs after age 65 and the risk increases with advanced age. [1] It is important to note that although the greatest known risk factor is increased age, up to 5 percent of people with the disease have early-onset Alzheimer’s which is often diagnosed in the 40s or 50s. Another strong risk factor is family history. If Alzheimer's disease has occurred in your family members, other members are more likely to develop it. If Alzheimer's disease has occurred in your family members, other members are more likely to develop it. The risk increases if more than one family member has the illness. [2]

 

10 Signs of Alzheimer’s

Memory loss that disrupts daily life is not a typical part of aging. Every individual may experience the following signs in different degrees. If you or a loved one is experiencing one or more of the signs of Alzheimer’s disease please consult with a physician for further follow-up. [3]

 

  • Memory loss that disrupts daily life
  • Challenges in planning or solving problems
  • Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, work, or leisure
  • Confusion with time or place
  • Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
  • New problems with words in speaking or writing
  • Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
  • Decreased or poor judgment
  • Withdrawal from work or social activities
  • Changes in mood and personality

 

Stages of Alzheimer's [4]

1. The Early Stage- Friends, family or co-workers may begin to notice difficulties.

  • Recent memory loss begins to affect job performance
  • Confusion about places
  • Loss of initiative
  • Mood/personality changes, avoidance of people
  • Takes longer to do routine chores
  • Makes bad decisions
  • Trouble handling money, paying bills

 

2. The Middle Stage- Gaps in memory and thinking are noticeable and worsening. Individuals begin to need help with day-to-day activities or may progress to needing extensive help with daily activities.

  • Increasing memory loss and confusion
  • Personality changes may take place
  • Problems recognizing close friends
  • Repetitive statements
  • Occasional muscle twitches or jerking
  • Motor problems
  • Problems with reading, writing, and numbers
  • Difficulty thinking logically
  • Can't find right words
  • May be suspicious, irritable, fidgety, teary
  • Loss of impulse control, refusal to bathe, difficulty with dressing
  • May see or hear things that are not there
  • Needs supervision

 

3. Late Stage- In the final stage of this disease, individuals lose the ability to respond to their environment, to carry on a conversation and, eventually, to control movement.

  • Loses weight
  • Can't recognize family members or oneself in mirror
  • Unable to care for self
  • Can't communicate
  • May put everything in mouth, touch everything
  • Can't control bowels, bladder
  • May have seizures, difficulty with swallowing, skin infections

 

When do I consider getting help for a loved one with Alzheimer's disease?

There is no standard answer to this question. Each family must examine its unique situation. Family members who try to manage care at home often become physically and mentally exhausted before they are willing to consider home and community-based services, assisted living, or nursing home care as options. The type and degree of symptoms can drive the need to seek help. The advantages of socialization and structure may precede the need for physical and safety assistance.

Where can I get care for my loved one with Alzheimer’s disease?

  • Adult daycare: These programs may provide activities, meals, health services, and more.
  • Home Health Care: Home health can cover a wide range of needs, from personal care, supervision and socialization to high-tech assistive devices such as medication administration devices or tele-monitoring services.
  • Assisted living facilities: These facilities can help residents with daily living activities such as bathing, dressing, and eating. Many facilities also provide some health care. Assisted living often provides secured environments that can manage a resident’s increasing need for supervision.
  • In addition to the secured environments provided by assisted living facilities, often referred to as dementia-units, nursing homes can also provide the care and supervision necessary for someone with advance dementia.

 

[1] What is Alzheimer's. Alzheimer's Association. http://www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_what_is_alzheimers.asp

[2] Kidd, P. (2008). Alzheimer's disease, amnestic mild cognitive impairment, and age-associated memory impairment: current understanding and progress toward integrative prevention. Alternative Medicine Review, 13(2), 85-115. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

[3] Know the 10 Signs. Alzheimer's Association. http://www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_know_the_10_signs.asp

[4] Burke, K. & LeMon, P. (2000). Medical-Surgical Nursing: Critical thinking in client care. Prentice-Hall, Inc. Upper Saddle River, NJ. p. 1818-1857.

 

 

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