According to the World Health Organization, 55 million people worldwide have dementia, with numbers expected to rise to a staggering 139 million in 2050.
Alzheimer’s in particular is the most common cause of dementia, which occurs as a progressive neurologic disorder that causes the brain to shrink and brain cells to die, resulting in declined cognitive, behavioral, and social skills.
What Causes Alzheimer’s Disease?
Several factors, including age-related complex changes in the brain, genetic, environmental toxins, head injury, low education level, and even lifestyle can all influence your risk level for Alzheimer’s. If you tend to worry a lot, that may play into your risk for Alzheimer’s, as chronic stress has been linked to dementia symptoms, affecting the brain’s immune system.
“What we know is that chronic stress does affect many biological pathways within our body. There is an intimate interplay between exposure to chronic stress and pathways influencing the body’s reaction to such stress,” says David Groth, PhD, a senior author of the study and an associate professor at Curtin University in Perth, Australia.
“Genetic variations within these pathways can influence the way the brain’s immune system behaves, leading to a dysfunctional response. In the brain, this leads to chronic disruption of normal brain processes, increasing the risk of subsequent neurodegeneration and ultimately dementia,” he adds.
What are the 4 A’s of Alzheimer’s?
- Amnesia, or memory loss, is the most common sign of Alzheimer’s.
- Aphasia is the loss of ability to express or understand speech.
- Apraxia begins with the loss of voluntary motor skills and results in the body’s full shut-down.
- Agnosia is the disabling of the five senses.
The 4 Stages of Alzheimer’s
It’s Time to be Aware
Early signs of Alzheimer’s are in the eye, believe it or not. In this “preclinical stage”, vision problems are one of the first symptoms of Alzheimer’s to manifest. This can lead to difficulty balancing, reading, spatial relationships, and driving.
Early Signs & Symptoms of Alzheimer’s
Mild, or early-stage Alzheimer’s, often occurs in perfectly healthy-seeming people. Memory loss is often the first and most obvious sign that dementia may be setting in. Keep an eye out for the following symptoms and get to a doctor if you can for a proper diagnosis.
- Poor judgment that leads to bad decisions, such as less attention to hygiene or trouble taking care of a pet
- Loss of spontaneity and sense of initiative
- Normal daily tasks take longer to complete
- Repeating questions
- Trouble handling money and paying bills
- Wandering and getting lost
- Losing things or misplacing them in odd places
- Mood and personality changes such as quick to be fearful or suspicious
- Withdrawal from work or social activities
- Increased anxiety and/or aggression
Moderate Signs & Symptoms of Alzheimer’s
It’s time to take a step toward support for your senior loved one suffering from Alzheimer’s disease when moderate signs appear. The person will require more intensive supervision to ensure safety and quality of life.
- Increased memory loss and confusion — including forgetfulness, repetition, and increased reliability on memory aids
- Inability to learn new things
- New problems with language: reading, writing, and working with numbers
- Difficulty organizing thoughts and thinking logically such as challenges planning or solving problems
- Shortened attention span
- Problems coping with new situations
- Difficulty carrying out multi-step tasks, such as getting dressed
- Problems recognizing family and friends
- Hallucinations, delusions, and paranoia
- Impulsive behavior such as undressing at inappropriate times or places or using vulgar language
- Inappropriate outbursts of anger
- Restlessness, agitation, anxiety, tearfulness, wandering — especially in the late afternoon or evening
- Repetitive statements or movement, occasional muscle twitches
People with severe Alzheimer’s are entirely immobile and dependent on the support of others as their body shuts down. Symptoms include:
- Inability to communicate
- Weight loss
- Skin infections
- Difficulty swallowing
- Groaning, moaning, or grunting
- Increased sleeping
- Loss of bowel and bladder control
Alzheimer’s Anger: A Sad Side Effect
“Alzheimer’s anger” is sudden aggression that arises for no apparent reason but stems from deep frustration with the situation they find themselves in. They are most likely in physical discomfort, can no longer communicate properly, and may feel overstimulated or lost in every sense of the word. It is overwhelming for both the person and their caregiver, and it’s important to remember to always ensure safety first and to remain open and relaxed.
Don’t have anyone you can talk to as a caregiver, person with the disease, or family member? Try the Alzconnected.org message board to find a community you can talk to.
Can You Prevent Alzheimer’s?
There are several other types of dementia that interfere with daily life, such as Huntington’s Disease, Mixed Dementia, Parkinson’s Disease and Korsakoff Syndrome among others. Keeping a diligent eye on the senior loved one in your life and knowing the signs and symptoms to look for can help with early diagnosis.
You can lower your risk of Alzheimer’s disease and delay its onset by:
- Eating a fresh diet that consists of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, seafood, and unsaturated fats (Mediterranean Diet).
- Regular exercise
- Good sleeping habits
- Managing high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and high cholesterol
- Choosing not to smoke
A proper diagnosis will likely include neuropsychological testing, a physical exam, and brain imaging.
Talk to your loved ones if it’s time to see a doctor, and know that Verve Senior Living has trained, professional staff on hand to offer support and guidance every step of the way.