Alzheimer's disease can be upsetting for both the sufferer and the loved ones witnessing the effects. From symptoms to coping mechanisms, we explore everything you need to know about Alzheimer's.
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive one that affects memory and brain processing. It generally afflicts the elderly, but also has an early onset manifestation that can appear in young people. According to the Mayo Clinic, the disease actually causes the death of brain cells. Over time, the death of these cells result in a steadily declining ability to remember life events and usually results in the need for round-the-clock care as the disease gets worse. It’s most often caused by a combination of genetics, environmental factors and lifestyle choices. As the brain changes with age, these contributors play a role in the development of the disease.
Alzheimer’s disease typically starts off with minor memory issues, then continues to get worse. Most of the time people chalk it up to getting older and don’t spend too much time worrying about it. This can be detrimental in the long run though, because getting help as soon as the issue arises makes for a better prognosis. Early intervention can sometimes help slow the progression of the disease, though there is no cure for it right now.
The most common early symptoms of the disease include forgetfulness and confusion. Most people don’t attribute these symptoms to a potential problem until they get worse and begin to interfere with everyday life. As the disease progresses, symptoms also worsen and become more worrisome. They include repeating the same questions and statement over and over, forgetting people, appointments, conversations and the use for certain objects.
People with Alzheimer’s might also get lost, misplace items, have trouble finding the right words for things and demonstrate a decline in reading and writing abilities. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, most people do not realize they have a problem in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease and many fail to see a problem even in the later stages of the disease.
While there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, there are treatment options that can slow the progression of the disease and improve the quality of life for the person suffering from it. There isn’t a specific test to diagnose the disease, but doctors can determine whether Alzheimer’s is at play based on the reports of yourself and family members. Your doctor will probably do a series of physical tests to look at your balance, coordination and reflexes. Blood work is done to rule out other issues that could be causing your symptoms.
In many cases, brain imaging, neuro tests and mental function tests can help a doctor confirm whether Alzheimer’s is the diagnosis or not. It’s important to know that after death, Alzheimer’s can be confirmed through brain testing with an autopsy. This is valuable as the disease is genetic and can help family members stay alert for its presence down the road.
Once a diagnosis is made, an appropriate treatment plan can be made. This generally involves medications that boost the cell activity in the brain, helping counteract the issues that arise as the cells die off. The drugs can slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, but experts warn that they don’t work for everyone with the disease. In addition to medication, people with Alzheimer’s must organize their home so they know where their possessions are and so that they can care for themselves without safety concerns. A calendar and activity center helps with remembering appointments and important phone numbers.
As the disease progresses, many people must move into a care facility where they can receive the care they need. In addition, the Mayo Clinic encourages plenty of exercise and good nutrition. These healthy lifestyle choices help with mood and ensure a healthy body otherwise. This prevents complications and helps improve the quality of life for someone suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Often, a caretaker must prepare meals because the disease can cause people to forget to eat or keep them from making healthy diet decisions.
Finally, a life that includes opportunities for social engagement can help people with the disease. This can help maintain cognition and make a person feel better in general. Intellectual activities can also help. This includes things like crossword puzzles, reading and other mentally stimulating activities.
Medical experts say that there is no way to prevent Alzheimer’s. That being said, there are ways to reduce your risk. Research shows that this can be done by reducing your risk of developing heart disease. That involves exercise, a low-fat diet and plenty of omega-3 fatty acids in your meal plan. Controlling stress and cholesterol are other ways to reduce your risk. Engaging in mental activities can also help.
As said above, it’s a good idea to read as much as possible, use the brain to solve puzzles and problems and spend time in conversation with friends as often as your schedule allows. There is no guarantee that this will keep you from getting Alzheimer’s, but it certainly can’t help. Talk to your doctor about the right amount of time and what activities are right for you.
It can be devastating to learn of an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. This is true for you as well as the people who love you and will be caring for you in the later stages of the disease. One of the most important things you can do is to find a support group that is made up of people also struggling with the disease. Having like-minded people around you allows you to vent, learn new techniques for managing the disease and give you the comfort you need. Feeling as if you are not alone is a valuable way to work through the emotions that go along with having Alzheimer’s disease.
If your loved one has the disease, a support group for friends and family members can really help you. Again, it gives you support from people who are going through the same things that you are. This is a great resource when the problem gets to be a lot to bear as well as giving you individuals that can give you tips, tricks and other resources for caring for and helping your loved one. The Mayo Clinic also recommends taking time for yourself and getting a break when you can. Adult day centers are a great place for people with Alzheimer’s to stay where you can be sure they are being cared for and assisted in your absence. A doctor can often give you a good referral for a place that meets your needs.
Fortunately, for people who have Alzheimer’s disease, research continues that helps give medical professionals insight into the disease so they can better care for people with the disease. The National Institute on Aging, ongoing clinical trials give patients access to new drugs and treatment options that can be used to gain a further understanding of Alzheimer’s.
New information published in the journal “Neurology” reports that staying physical active can assist in preventing movement problems later in life. The research indicates that people who suffer from the lesions associated with Alzheimer’s disease experience a better range of motion and less trouble getting around when they continue to exercise, despite their diagnosis.
Other studies continue to monitor the pros and cons of certain medications given to Alzheimer’s patients. By learning more about their function in the brain, experts can discover the interactions that seem to have the most benefit for the disease. This allows your doctor to prescribe the best one for you and your specific case of Alzheimer’s disease. Participating in a clinical trial is an easy way to gain access to free or low-cost medications that are beneficial for you.
Having Alzheimer’s can lead to other issues. For people who forget to eat, malnutrition is a legitimate concern. A lack of important vitamins and minerals can lead to a wide range of health problems, including brittle bones, unhealthy digestion and flagging energy levels. People with Alzheimer’s sometimes get lost or wander, which puts them at risk of falls or becoming the target of a violent criminal. People might also experience new symptoms or health concerns, but can forget them so they never get mentioned to a doctor. That allows the problem to worsen before it can be detected by a doctor.
People with Alzheimer’s disease might also forget to take their medication or follow their treatment plan, both of which can put their overall health in jeopardy. As the disease progresses, physical functioning can be affected, causing trouble swallowing. This can result in the risk of choking or inhaled food, which can lead to pneumonia and breathing issues. Incontinence and trouble holding bowel movements is another complication. Being unable to move around can lead to atrophied muscles and sores that result from staying in one place all the time.
Proper medical care and round the clock care can help prevent some of these issues and ensure that the end of a person’s life is comfortable and as happy as it can be, despite suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
Sources and Institutions Providing Additional Information and Resources
http://www.nia.nih.gov/research/announcements/2015/03/physical-activity-associated-fewer-aging-brain-related-movement http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/alzheimers-disease/basics/complications/con-20023871 http://www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_what_is_alzheimers.asp#symptoms
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