Alzheimer’s – What To Know and Expect
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, a serious brain disorder that impacts daily living through memory loss and cognitive changes. Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior. Symptoms usually develop slowly and get worse over time, becoming severe enough to interfere with daily tasks. One of the most common signs of Alzheimer’s is memory loss, especially forgetting recently learned information. Others include forgetting important dates or events; asking for the same information over and over; increasingly needing to rely on memory aids (e.g., reminder notes or electronic devices) or family members for things they used to handle on their own. Things you once did easily will become increasingly difficult, such as maintaining a schedule or managing money. Some people may try to cover up their difficulties to protect themselves and their family from embarrassment. Or, they may be reluctant to ask for help. Trying to do what others in the early stage have called “faking it” and covering up errors can be a great source of stress. Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases. Every 67 seconds someone in the United States develops the disease. Alzheimer’s is a serious disease that can cause a great deal of stress, hurt and even worry not only on the patient but their loved ones. The best thing you can do is learn about this horrible disease and be there for your loved one.
Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of aging, although the greatest known risk factor is increasing age and the majority of people with Alzheimer’s are 65 and older. But Alzheimer’s is not just a disease of old age. Up to 5 percent of people with the disease have early onset Alzheimer’s (also known as younger-onset), which often appears when someone is in their 40s or 50s. Alzheimer’s worsens over time. Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease, where dementia symptoms gradually worsen over a number of years. In the early stages, memory loss is mild, but with late-stage Alzheimer’s, individuals lose the ability to carry on a conversation and respond to their environment. Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. Those with Alzheimer’s live an average of eight years after their symptoms become noticeable to others, but survival can range from four to 20 years, depending on age and other health conditions. Alzheimer’s has no current cure, but treatments for symptoms are available and research continues. Although current Alzheimer’s treatments cannot stop Alzheimer’s from progressing, they can temporarily slow the worsening of dementia symptoms and improve quality of life for those with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers. Today, there is a worldwide effort under way to find better ways to treat this horrible disease, delay its onset and prevent it from developing.
- More than 5 million Americans are living with the disease.
- Every 67 seconds someone in the United States develops Alzheimer’s.
- Alzheimer’s disease is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States.
- There are approximately 500,000 people dying each year because they have Alzheimer’s
- 1 in 3 seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or another dementia.
- In 2013, 15.5 million caregivers provided an estimated 17.7 billion hours of unpaid care valued at more than $220 billion.
- In her 60s, a woman’s estimated lifetime risk for developing Alzheimer’s is 1 in 6. For breast cancer it is 1 in 11.
- There are 2.5 times more women than men providing intensive “on-duty” care 24 hours a day for someone with Alzheimer’s.
- Almost two-thirds of Americans with Alzheimer’s are women
- More than 60 percent of Alzheimer’s and dementia caregivers are women.
- Alzheimer’s disease is the most expensive condition in the nation. In 2014, the direct costs to American society of caring for those with Alzheimer’s will total an estimated $214 billion, including $150 billion in costs to Medicare and Medicaid. Despite these staggering figures, Alzheimer’s will cost an estimated $1.2 trillion (in today’s dollars) in 2050.
Top 10 signs/symptoms of Alzheimer’s
- Memory loss that disrupts daily life
- Challenges in planning or solving problems
- Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure
- Confusion with time or place
- Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
- Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
- Decreased or poor judgment
- Changes in mood and personality
- Withdrawal from work or social activities
- New problems with words in speaking or writing
Stages of Alzheimer’s
- Stage 1 – Mild/Early (lasts 2-4 yrs) – Frequent recent memory loss, particularly of recent conversations and events. Repeated questions, some problems expressing and understanding language. Mild coordination problems: writing and using objects becomes difficult. Depression and apathy can occur, accompanied by mood swings. Need reminders for daily activities, and may have difficulty driving.
- Stage 2 – Moderate/Middle (lasts 2-10 yrs) – Can no longer cover up problems. Pervasive and persistent memory loss, including forgetfulness about personal history and inability to recognize friends and family. Rambling speech, unusual reasoning, and confusion about current events, time, and place. More likely to become lost in familiar settings, experience sleep disturbances, and changes in mood and behavior, which can be aggravated by stress and change. May experience delusions, aggression, and uninhibited behavior. Mobility and coordination is affected by slowness, rigidity, and tremors. Need structure, reminders, and assistance with the activities of daily living.
- Stage 3 – Severe/Late (lasts 1-3+ yrs) – Confused about past and present. Loss of ability to remember, communicate, or process information. Generally incapacitated with severe to total loss of verbal skills. Unable to care for self. Falls possible and immobility likely. Problems with swallowing, incontinence, and illness. Extreme problems with mood, behavior, hallucinations, and delirium. In this stage, the person will need round the clock intensive support and care.
Significant cognitive and memory loss are not symptoms of normal aging. However, these symptoms do not always indicate Alzheimer’s disease. Other conditions can also cause mental decline.
Symptoms that mimic early Alzheimer’s disease may result from:
- Central nervous system and other degenerative disorders, including head injuries, brain tumors, stroke, epilepsy, Pick’s Disease, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease.
- Metabolic ailments, such as hypothyroidism, hypoglycemia, malnutrition, vitamin deficiencies, dehydration, kidney or liver failure.
- Substance-induced conditions, such as drug interactions, medication side-effects, alcohol and drug abuse.
- Psychological factors, such as dementia syndrome, depression, emotional trauma, chronic stress, psychosis, chronic sleep deprivation, delirium.
- Infections, such as meningitis, encephalitis, and syphilis.
Are you at risk for Alzheimer’s?
- The primary risk factors of Alzheimer’s are age, family history, and genetics. However, there are other risk factors that you can influence. Maintaining a healthy heart and avoiding high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and high cholesterol can decrease the risk of Alzheimer’s. Watch your weight, avoid tobacco and excess alcohol, stay socially connected, and exercise both your body and mind.
- Early-onset Alzheimer’s affects patients under the age of 65. This relatively rare condition is seen more often in patients whose parents or grandparents developed Alzheimer’s disease at a young age, and is generally associated with three specific gene mutations (the APP gene found on chromosome 21, the PSI gene on chromosome 12, and the PS2 gene on chromosome 1).
Living with Alzheimer’s disease is a challenge for anyone. It’s difficult to remember things, make decisions, and find your way around the way you used to. It can be frustrating a good deal of the time, but there are good days and bad days. Here are some helpful tips and things you can do to make things easier for yourself — to make things feel a bit more normal again. To help cope with memory loss, planning your day, avoid getting lost and communicating with others.
- Place sticky notes around the house when you need to remember things.
- Label cupboards and drawers with words or pictures that describe their contents.
- Place important phone numbers in large print next to the phone.
- Ask a friend or family member to call and remind you of important things that you need to do in the day, like meal times, medication times, and appointments.
- Always keep a book with you to record important information, phone numbers, names, ideas you have, appointments, your address, and directions to your home.
- Use a calendar to keep track of time and to remember important dates.
- Use photos of people you see often labeled with their names.
- Keep track of phone messages by using an answering machine.
- It will be easier to accomplish tasks during the times of the day when you feel best.
- Allow yourself the time to do the things you need to do, and don’t feel rushed or let other people rush you.
- If something gets too difficult, take a break.
- Ask for help if you need it.
- Find things to do that you enjoy and are able to do safely on your own.
- Ask someone to go with you when you go out.
- Ask for help if you need it and explain that you have a memory problem.
- Always take directions for where you’re going with you.
- Always take your time, and don’t feel rushed
- Avoid distracting noises, and find a quiet place to talk.
- If you need to, ask the person you’re speaking with to repeat what he/she is saying or to speak slowly if you do not understand.
It is important to realize that at some point, it will become too difficult or dangerous for you to live by yourself. But, in the earliest stages of the disease, many people do manage on their own — with support and help from friends, family, and community programs and with simple adjustments and safety practices in place. Just because you forget things, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have Alzheimer’s. Even when you fear the worst, the earlier you seek help, the better your chances of getting the care you need and maximizing your quality of life.