Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia resulting in loss of intellectual and social skills.
It is a progressive disease that destroys memory and other important brain functions. The increasing steady decline of brain functions are due to brain cells degeneration and brain cells death in the final stages. Stored memories of the life we knew and the people we connected perish with the dead brain cells. The physical body sadly becomes an empty shell.
Here are some of the staggering facts about Alzheimer’s disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
• In 2014, as many as five million Americans are living with the disease.
• The symptoms of disease can first appear after age 60 and the risk increase with age.
• Almost two-thirds of Americans with Alzheimer’s disease are women.
• The number of people living with the disease doubles every five years beyond age 65.
• This number is projected to nearly triple to 14 million people by 2060.
Scientists are studying and learning more, but the cause of Alzheimer’s disease is still unknown. There is no specific cure for Alzheimer’s disease, but it is most important to seek supportive services and treatments that can maximize brain function and maintain independence at the earliest stage of disease progression. Currently, there are medications and management strategies that may temporarily improve symptoms.
Early detection matters. If you have Alzheimer’s, you may be the first to notice that you are having unusual difficulty remembering common things and organizing your thoughts. In some cases, your close family and friends maybe the first to notice.
Here are the 10 warning signs to notice and bring to the attention of the primary health care provider, according to the Alzheimer’s Association:
• Memory loss that disrupts daily life. One of the most common signs of Alzheimer’s, especially in the early stages, is forgetting recently learned information. Others include forgetting important dates or events; asking for the same information over and over; and relying on memory aides (e.g., reminder notes or electronic devices) or family members for things they used to handle on their own. What’s typical? Sometimes forgetting names or appointments, but remembering them later.
• Challenges in planning or solving problems. Some people may experience changes in their ability to develop and follow a plan or work with numbers. They may have trouble following a familiar recipe or keeping track of monthly bills. They may have difficulty concentrating and take much longer to do things than they did before. What’s typical? Making occasional errors when balancing a checkbook.
• Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure. People with Alzheimer’s often find it hard to complete daily tasks. Sometimes, people may have trouble driving to a familiar location, managing a budget at work or remembering the rules of a favorite game. What’s typical? Occasionally needing help to use the settings on a microwave or to record a television show.
• Confusion with time or place. People with Alzheimer’s can lose track of dates, seasons and the passage of time. They may have trouble understanding something if it is not happening immediately. Sometimes they may forget where they are or how they got there. What’s typical? Getting confused about the day of the week but figuring it out later.
• Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships. For some people, having vision problems is a sign of Alzheimer’s. They may have difficulty reading, judging distance and determining color or contrast. In terms of perception, they may pass a mirror and think someone else is in the room. They may not recognize their own reflection. What’s typical? Vision changes related to cataracts.
• New problems with words in speaking or writing. People with Alzheimer’s may have trouble following or joining a conversation. They may stop in the middle of a conversation and have no idea how to continue, or they may repeat themselves. They may struggle with vocabulary; have problems finding the right word or call things by the wrong name (e.g. calling a watch a “hand clock”). What’s typical? Sometimes having trouble finding the right word.
• Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps. A person with Alzheimer’s disease may put things in unusual places. They may lose things and be unable to go back over their steps to find them again. Sometimes, they may accuse others of stealing. This may occur more frequently over time. What’s typical? Misplacing things from time to time, such as a pair of glasses or the remote control.
• Decreased or poor judgment. People with Alzheimer’s may experience changes in judgment or decision making. For example, they may use poor judgment when dealing with money, giving large amounts to telemarketers. They may pay less attention to grooming or keeping themselves clean. What’s typical? Making a bad decision once in a while.
• Withdrawal from work or social activities. A person with Alzheimer’s may start to remove themselves from hobbies, social activities, work projects or sports. They may have trouble keeping up with a favorite sports team or remembering how to complete a favorite hobby. They may also avoid being social because of the changes they have experience. What’s typical? Sometimes feeling weary of work, family and social obligations.
• Changes in mood and personality. The mood and personalities of people with Alzheimer’s can change. They can become confused, suspicious, depressed, fearful or anxious. They may be easily upset at home, at work, with friends or in places where they are out of their comfort zone. What’s typical? Developing very specific ways of doing things and becoming irritable when a routine is disrupted.
If you have any questions about any of these warning signs, the Alzheimer’s Association recommends consulting a physician. Early diagnosis provides the best opportunities for treatment, support and future planning.
A registered nurse, Dr. Elvie C. Ancheta is administrator of the California Department of Veterans Affairs’ William J. “Pete” Knight Veterans Home in Lancaster.