Remember Hollywood actress Julianne Moore in the 2015 Oscar winning movie ‘Still Alice’? Moore played the ﬁlm's lead, a linguistics professor diagnosed with early-onset of Alzheimer's disease. The actress went on to speak about awareness of the disease in her speech while receiving the award. In her speech Moore expressed, “So many people with this disease feel isolated and marginalized and one of the wonderful things about movies is they make us feel seen and not alone.
Usually Alzheimer’s disease is detected in the later years of life, but as Moore depicted in the movie ‘Still Alice’, the early onset of Alzheimer’s cannot be ruled out. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. Alzheimer’s disease can be daunting to know and understand, when it comes to your loved ones.
Alzheimer’s Disease Meaning? What causes Alzheimer’s Disease?
The disease is named after Dr. Alois Alzheimer when in the year 1906, Dr. Alzheimer noticed changes in the brain tissue when a woman died of an unusual mental illness which included memory loss, issues with language and speech and unpredictable behavior. Abnormal clumps called amyloid plaques and tangled bundles of ﬁbers termed as neuroﬁbrillary, or tau, tangles were found in the brain. It ﬁrst starts when the brain proteins fail to function normally and this disrupts the work of brain cells or neurons and triggers a series of toxic events. Neurons are damaged, lose connections to each other and eventually die.
The loss of neurons spreads in a predictable pattern from one region to another in the brain. The brain eventually shrinks signiﬁcantly in the later or more severe stage. What causes the brain to change for most people when it comes to Alzheimer's disease is a combination of genetic, lifestyle and environmental factors that aﬀect the brain over time.
Alzheimer’s disease is an irreversible, progressive brain disorder where slowly the memory is destroyed and thinking skills are aﬀected as brain cells shrink called atrophy and eventually die. This leads to the ability to carry out the simplest tasks becoming diﬃcult to carry out. Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia which is seen in people in the mid 60s while in very rare cases like in the movie ‘Still Alice’ the early onset of Alzheimer’s is seen in people between the age group of 30-60.
According to the World Health Organization(WHO) worldwide, around 50 million people have dementia and there are nearly 10 million new cases every year. Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia and may contribute to 60–70% of cases. Dementia is one of the major causes of disability and dependency among older people worldwide.
Diﬀerence Between Dementia and Alzheimer’s:
Dementia is a syndrome and not a disease, an umbrella term that can be used to describe symptoms that impact memory, daily activities and communication skills. Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia. In Alzheimer’s the brain cell connections and the cells themselves degenerate and die. This eventually destroys memory and other important mental functions.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, which can aﬀect memory, language and thought.
High Risk Factors For Alzheimer:
1. Advancing age is a big factor for Alzheimer. Not everyone who grows old is susceptible to Alzheimer, however it is one of the factors for memory loss and confusion. When the memory loss impacts basic day to day functioning, this is could be a sign or Alzheimer.
2. Genetically if a closer relative like a parent or sibling has Alzheimer, the chances of contracting the disease is higher. These genetic factors however are complex.
3. Patients with down syndrome have a tendency to contract Alzheimer. Compared to the general population, the symptoms tend to appear 10 to 20 years earlier in people with down syndrome.
4. Did you know that Alzheimer’s disease is more likely in women compared to men with more than half the Alzheimer’s population being women who make up nearly two-thirds of all diagnosed cases of Alzheimer’s disease.
5. People who have Mild Cognitive have a signiﬁcant risk of developing dementia. When the primary MCI deﬁcit is memory, the condition is more likely to progress to dementia due to Alzheimer's disease.
6. People who have head trauma are at a higher risk of getting Alzheimer. People above the age of 50 who had a traumatic brain injury (TBI).
7. Lifestyle issues like poor sleep patterns, excessive alcohol consumption, excessive smoking, diabetes, high cholesterol and heart conditions.
What is Alzheimer’s Disease and Ten Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease to Look Out For Are?
1. Frequent memory loss and confusion.
2. Diﬃculty in learning new things.
3. Increased diﬃculty in learning new languages or having problems with numbers.
4. Loss of being spontaneous and loss of enthusiasm.
5. Repeating questions and statements.
6. Taking much longer than expected to complete regular tasks.
7. Confusion in completing regular tasks including paying bills.
8. Wandering and losing the way.
9. Misplacing things by keeping them in odd places.
10. Increased aggression and anxiety in smallest of things.
While these help to detect the onset of Alzheimer's disease, the more severe cases include the risk of complete loss of basic motor skills.
1. Hallucinations, delusions and paranoia.
2. Impulsive behaviour in public without realizing it like undressing or saying inappropriate things.
3. Sudden burst of crying or anger.
5. Increased sleeping.
6. Diﬃculty thinking logically and communicating.
7. Repetitive statements and small restless body movements.
8. Skin infections.
9. Weight loss.
10. Loss of bladder control.
There are some important skills that can be preserved for a longer period of time as another part of the brain controls these functions. This happens even as symptoms of Alzheimer’s worsens. Preserved skills include reading or listening to books, telling stories and reminiscing old days, singing, listening to music, dancing, drawing or performing class. It is not that these skills will never be aﬀected. In very severe cases, these skills are aﬀected at a much later stage of the disease.
What You Need to Know About Alzheimer’s Disease and It’s Diagnosis?
Here Are 3 Major Alzheimer’s Disease Stages with Brief Description:
1. Early Stage or Mild Alzheimer:
During the early Alzheimer’s disease stages, the patient might experience very mild symptoms broadening it to general forgetfulness. These symptoms may include planning troubles, forgetting the placement of daily use items, problems in managing ﬁnancial decisions, troubles in performing tasks at work, and inability to recollect as well as judge places and distances. The time span of this stage is between 2 years to 4 years.
Before Alzheimer’s disease symptoms appear, there are changes in the brain related to Alzheimer which are noticeable. This begins 10-15 years before the onset of Alzheimer which is referred to the pre-clinical Alzheimer disease. It is important to notice any minor signs of forgetfulness.
2. Middle Stage or Moderate Alzheimer:
During this stage, the patient’s condition might start looking a bit more prominent such as the patient can experience forgetfulness of personal past, unable to remember the address or phone number, personality changes and might not even be able to recall the day it is. The duration of this stage can be anywhere between 2 years to 10 years.
A person’s routine is disrupted and they are unable to do simple tasks on their own and require assistance. This stage can last many years and goes beyond memory loss and aﬀects the cognition outside the memory including language and calculations. This makes it more problematic to complete daily tasks. This stage would also include them forgetting minute details of who they are married to and who their family members are.
The memory from the distant past tends to be better than recent memory of day to day tasks, whom they met and what they spoke about. They could experience restlessness and experience changes in sleeping patterns including sleeping during the day and staying awake at night. They might experience personality changes and act suspicious or feel lost in gatherings amongst familiar people.
3. Late Stage or Severe Alzheimer:
During this stage, the symptoms are regular and highly signiﬁcant. The symptoms during this stage include apparent and sudden behavior changes, inability to carry a conversation, eating and swallowing can be diﬃcult, inability to control the bladder, Vulnerability to infections, diﬃculties in sitting, walking as well as swallowing.
The last stage of Alzheimer’s disease lasts on an average of 1 to 3 years. The increased dependence on people starts at this stage where performing day to day tasks is an issue, but they forget people who are important to them. they might not know what to do when the doorbell rings, when the phone rings or if there is a ﬁre and a ﬁre alarm goes oﬀ.
Leaving them alone becomes dangerous and it is best they have assistance as they are communicating but not in a speciﬁc context to have a conversation or are unable to communicate what they are experiencing. The brain cells deteriorate considerably and motor skills are not properly functional.
Diagnosing Alzheimer’s Disease:
The diagnosis of Alzheimer’s can be done through an entire set of tools that are speciﬁcally designed to determine and detect dementia and to ﬁgure out whether the cause of it is Alzheimer’s or not. Not only this, but this condition can also be diagnosed with surety aQer the death of the person with the help of a microscopic brain examination.
To start with, it is highly essential to self assess the symptoms ﬁrst hand while encountering this disease. These assessments can be speciﬁcally noted as well as reported by a close family member as well who deals with the patient on a daily basis. A person can easily perform the basic physical tests at home to see whether the response of their mind towards diﬀerent tasks is eﬀective or not. Apart from this, there are many tests that doctors opt for to know the exact root of the cause of these symptoms.
Alzheimer’s Tests - Other Ways to Test for Alzheimer’s disease:
While the patient visits a doctor who suspects him to have Alzheimer’s disease, he may refer the patient to Geriatricians, Geriatric Psychiatrists, or Neuropsychologists that will further examine you with the help of:
1. Physical Testing:
During this testing, the doctor examines your reﬂexes, coordination between the patient’s mind and body, hearing and sight senses, ability to do simple tasks as walking or reading, and many more. This is the ﬁrst stage of testing and is generally the foundation of further complex tests.
2. Neuropsychological Testing:
This is where the doctor will assess the patient’s memory and other mental functions. During this test, the doctor can ﬁgure out timelines at which the symptoms may progress in the future. These tests provide additional details of the functioning and processing of your brain activities.
3. Brain Imaging:
This can be done with the help of MRI scans i.e. magnetic resonance imaging that uses radio waves and magnetic ﬁeld to produce images of the brain. This method is eﬀectively used to monitor brain shrinkage and to rule out other possibilities. Another way of brain imaging is through a Computerized Tomography or a CT Scan, that uses X-Ray technology to ﬁnd tumors or any head injuries in the brains.
Prevention is better than cure, though Alzheimer's disease is not a preventable condition. A number of lifestyle risk factors for Alzheimer's can be modiﬁed which can reduce the risk on getting the disease.
Research shows that changes in diet, exercise and habits are some steps to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease which in turn may lower the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease and other disorders leading to dementia. Lifestyle choices to ensure a healthy heart may reduce the risk of
Some Steps That Can be Taken to Improve Lifestyle Choices Are:
1. Exercising regularly.
2. Eating a healthy diet to include foods low in saturated fat. A Mediterranean diet is one example.
3. Following treatment guidelines which help to manage high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol.
4. Giving up smoking.
5. Preserved thinking skills later in life and a reduced risk of Alzheimer's disease depend on how social a person is which includes participating in social events, reading, dancing, playing board games, creating art, playing an instrument and involving other activities into the routine that require mental and social engagement.
Alzheimer’s Disease Treatment and Cure:
There is no permanent cure for Alzheimer’s disease, however with proper intake of medicines and cognitive management strategies, the disease can be controlled. Here is what to do when there are signs of Alzheimer’s which you want to treat. Understand what the options are. Does it have to be administering medicines or are non-drug options available too? This is important to understand the extent to which Alzheimer’s has aﬀected a loved one and as a caregiver what needs to be done to treat the patient while help with improving quality of life.
There is no way of stopping the progression of Alzheimer’s, but proper medication can help to control memory loss and confusion for a limited period of time. There is no one drug or treatment to successfully treat Alzheimer. A combination of various drugs and therapies are used to help slow down the progression of the disease. What can help control Alzheimer is early detection of the disease and regular screening by doctors to prevent the disease from going to the severe stage sooner.
As mentioned in the prevention section, eating a balanced and healthy diet, exercising regularly and being socially active are some factors to help in controlling the progression of Alzheimer.
Being A Caregiver:
Whether it is a family member or looking after a patient who is unknown to you previously, it is important to remember that Alzheimer leads patients to become confused along with loss of memory and aggression is a big part of the experience. Here is what needs to be done as s caregiver:
1. Listen to the patient’s frustrations and exhibit empathy and reassure the person in front of you.
2. A simple, well deﬁned routine each day makes the process simpler.
3. Minimize noise, clutter and allow fewer people to visit at a time.
4. Junk food and stimulants like caﬀeine should be restricted.
5. Quiet time should be incorporated into the daily routine like a walk outdoors.
6. Music, reading and walks help the patient to focus attention.
7. Don’t show the patient they are completely dependent on you as a caregiver.Permit as much control over their day as they can manage which gives them a sense of independence at the same time.
8. Keep familiar material which has been around for decades which is easier for patients to relate to like family pictures and objects with important meaning or signiﬁcance in their lives.
Why Opt for Specialized Alzheimer Care with ASBICO?
Seniors diagnosed with attention and one on one personal care. There may come a time when caring for your loved one becomes overwhelming. Considering an Alzheimer senior could be a good option knowing the community has tools and dementia trained caregivers to manage your loved ones disease process. The family caregiver can then focus on spending quality time with person diagnosed with Alzheimer.
Asbico Advisors oﬀer no cost professional advice to families on choosing the right Assisted Living and Memory Care communities. They not only assist in evaluating your parents needs, but also provide possible solutions when parents need assisted living Memory Care communities. Their proprietary assessment tool is designed to reduce costs by ﬁnding the most appropriate solutions for assisted living or memory care communities for seniors. Asbico Advisors work with you to ﬁnd the best-ﬁt solution for aging parents.
Syed A. Rizvi is the founder and CEO of Asbico, a Houston based family-owned business focussed on providing seniors and families with advice on Senior Living & Elder Care choices.