We all know that the older we get the more forgetful we are. However, Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia and is far more complicated and severe than just being ‘forgetful’. People who are stricken with this disease have problems with thinking, memory loss, and judgment; making living a normal day to day life quite difficult.
More than 100 years ago, Dr. Alois Alzheimer discovered the disease when examining a brain of someone who died of an unusual mental illness. The illness caused memory loss, language problems and unpredictable behavior. He discovered plaques (spots) and tangles in the brain, which we now know are the main features of Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s is not left for only the inflicted to bear. For loved ones, the essence of time can be cruel. With a disease like this, time can either be a friend or an enemy, depending on your attitude and what stage your loved one is in. As time goes by and the disease progresses, your loved one accomplishes less, understands less, communicates less, and the person you know and love can even be seen less.
RECOGNIZING ALZHEIMER’S IN A LOVED ONE
With most patients, symptoms of Alzheimer’s progress slowly over a number of years and can go unnoticed in the early stages. Sometimes, it is only when family members reflect back that they’re able to determine when the changes started to occur.
In the early stages, simplest clues are that day to day activities of an individual seem utterly strange to them. For instance:
A grandmother who didn’t recognize her granddaughter whom she had seen only weeks earlier.
A 65 year old man couldn’t figure out what the car keys were for.
A medical professor who was an excellent teacher who could not figure out how to take out the
slides from the slide projector that he had used hundreds of times before.
These are small, but telling signs that are commonly missed or rationalized by loved ones. Although it is important that these symptoms do not go unnoticed or minimized.
Symptoms of Moderate to Severe Alzheimer’s:
Becomes easily disoriented or confused
Short term memory loss – forgets about recent conversations or planned activities
Doesn’t recognize family members
Has difficulty completely day-to-day task, such as getting dressed, paying bills
Has feelings of paranoia or mistrust – believes people are stealing their valuables or money
Has problems coping with change in their routine
The cause of Alzheimer’s is still unknown and debated in the medical field. It was once believed that this was a genetic disease that runs in the family; however, recent research suggests that there may be other factors involved.
Most often Alzheimer’s is diagnosed in people over the age of 65; however early onset can occur much earlier. In fact, the age of onset is a significant factor in how rapidly the disease progresses. In other words, when Alzheimer’s is diagnosed at a younger age, the illness will progress much faster than people who are diagnosed later in life.
Although we have learned a lot about Alzheimer’s over the past 100 years, it is imperative that we continue our research to improve and find new medications for treatment.
CARING FOR A LOVED ONE WITH ALZHEIMER’S
Caring for a person with Alzheimer’s disease is physically, emotionally, and financially challenging. The demands of day-to-day care, the change in family roles, and making difficult decisions about placement in a care facility can be hard to handle.
Becoming well-informed about the disease is one important long-term strategy. Programs that teach families about the various stages of Alzheimer’s and about flexible and practical strategies for dealing with difficult caregiving situations provide vital help to those who care for people with Alzheimer’s.
Diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease in the early stage of the illness is difficult, at best. The primary reason is that normal aging and its effects hard to differentiate from the early symptoms of Alzheimer’s. In other words, loved ones will rationalize their unusual behavior and believe it’s just a part of aging.
For the reasons previously mentioned, only observant family can assist the physicians with the initial diagnosis and even then many physicians cannot confirm it. Therefore, it is preferable to contact a specialist for a full evaluation.
There are a battery of psychological tests available that may be helpful, radiographs such as CT Scans, MRIs help confirm the diagnosis. Blood work and other tests are essential.
These tests will help determining the proper care and excluding other possible medical conditions, such as brain trauma, tumor, and strokes.
As of now, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s. However, there are a few medications that are approved by the US FDA that may slow down the progression of the disease. These are Cognex®, Nemenda®, Aricept®, Exelon®, and Razadyne®.
Much of recent research has consisted of finding medicines or other treatments that may selectively help with specific symptoms. For example, there are some medicines that may help with reducing suspiciousness, some with agitation and irritability, and others with sleep.
In summary, the major thrust of research is to find the cause and cure for this illness, but in the meantime attempts at controlling symptoms is desirable.