FAQs on Alzheimer’s Dementia
What is Alzheimer’s Dementia?
Dementia is the general term used to describe symptoms impacting memory, performance of daily activities and communication abilities. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia. It is a neurological age related disorder associated with memory loss especially of recent events. Young people can still suffer from this disorder although it is not a common occurrence.
Stages and Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Dementia
There are some common symptoms of Alzheimer’s Dementia. However, it is very unlikely that two patients will experience the symptoms in the exact same way.
It takes place in 4 stages namely;
- Pre clinical
Research has showed that with Alzheimer’s, damage to the brain begins more than a decade before memory and other cognitive problems appear. At this stage, there are no symptoms that can be identified in the person but there are toxic changes happening in their brains.
- Mild (early stage)
This is the stage where most people are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Dementia. The person seems okay and healthy but usually experiences trouble making sense of the world around them. Slowly, they start realizing that something is wrong with them and people around them do too.
The problems involved at this stage include;
- Loss of memory especially of the things that have happened in the recent past
- Bad decision making as a result of poor judgment.
- Normal daily tasks become hard to complete.
- Asking questions over and over again.
- Difficulty handling money and paying bills
- Wandering off and getting lost. The wandering off causes bed falls when waking up.
- Misplacing things in odd places
- Experience mood swings and personality changes
- Increased anxiety and aggression.
During this stage supervision and care become necessary.
Symptoms may include:
- Increased memory loss and confusion
- Inability to learn new things which results into problems handling new situations.
- Experience difficulty in language, reading and writing.
- It becomes tough to organize thoughts and think logically
- Multistep tasks become difficult, for instance they cannot get dressed properly, and they may put on a dress inside out.
- Recognizing family and friends becomes difficult
- They are increasingly paranoid, delusional and hallucinate often.
- Rash behavior starts to appear such as using vulgar language, outbursts of anger, undressing at inappropriate places.
- Increased anxiety, restlessness, wandering off and getting lost
- Repetitive statements and movements.
In this stage of Alzheimer’s people are totally dependent on caregivers. They may spend most of their time in bed.
Their symptoms often include:
- Loss of communication and movement abilities
- Weight loss and skin infections
- Difficulty swallowing
- They may experience seizures
- Groaning, moaning, or grunting
- Some may experience increased sleeping while others have disturbed sleeping patterns.
- Loss of bowel and bladder control
Causes of Alzheimer’s Dementia
Alzheimer’s Dementia is caused by brain cell death over time.
Proteins build up in the brain to form plaques and tangles. These cause loss of connections between the nerve cells which eventually die causing loss of brain tissue.
While everybody could be a potential patient of Alzheimer’s, there are people who are at a higher risk than others. The risk factors include;
Age is the greatest risk factor for Alzheimer’s. Above the age of 65, the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease doubles approximately every five years.
- Family history
It is common belief that Alzheimer’s may be passed down from a parent or grandparent. There has not been enough evidence to prove this. Alzheimer’s that is directly or strongly inherited is quite rare. However, there are quite a number of genes known to increase or decrease a person’s chance of developing Alzheimer’s. A person with a close relative who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s over 65 stands higher chances of developing the disease.
- Repeated severe traumatic brain and head injuries through accidents or contact sports.
- Exposure to toxic environmental contaminants, pesticides or industrial chemicals.
To reduce this risk;
- Get regular exercise
- Ensure a healthy diet to avoid the risk of cardiovascular diseases
- Ensure you stay mentally and socially engaged.
- Wear proper protective gear when participating in contact sports
- Ensure full recovery and rest after severe brain and head injuries.
To date, there has been no single test for Alzheimer’s disease. Doctors diagnose it by looking at the symptoms and medical history. They also take a look at the person’s neurological function by testing balance, their senses and reflexes. A depression screening and genetic testing is also done to rule out their possibility.
After ruling out possible conditions the doctor checks the person’s mental ability. The symptoms and how they developed are assessed in more detail. A pen and paper test may also be carried out to gauge the person’s ability to remember. They may ask for information from close friends and relatives who are more likely to be aware than the patient.
The doctor may then recommend a brain scan (CT or MRI) to rule out conditions such as stroke or a brain tumor. An Alzheimer’s patient will have shrunken brain tissue.
It is important to get diagnosed early to be able to access treatment, advice and support. Planning for the future will also be easier at early stages of Alzheimer’s.
Treatment and Management Strategies
Currently, there is no known cure for Alzheimer’s Dementia. However, there are some activities that can help patients to stay physically and mentally well.
- Temporary drug treatments
These drugs can help to temporarily slow down the progression of symptoms in patients at the mild or moderate stages of Alzheimer’s. They may help with daily activities such as cooking or shopping.
- Exercising the mind
Includes engaging in activities that keep the person busy like filling in puzzles, story reading and telling or playing games they like. This acts as a general mood booster.
- Social Interactions
Taking the patient out to support groups or places where they can just have a chat helps. Support groups will help them take positively the diagnosis and improve their mood.
As caregivers for patients with Alzheimer’s strive to give them the best quality of life, they may also experience distress. Thus it is important to ensure that they are given maximum support.