The number of Americans living with Alzheimer’s is growing fast — an estimated 5.7 million Americans of all ages have the disease. In today’s blog, the expert elder law attorneys at Davidson Law Group discuss the details of Alzheimer’s, including signs, symptoms, stages, and treatments.
Dementia vs. Alzheimer’s
Although Alzheimer’s and dementia are sometimes used interchangeably, they’re not the same condition. Dementia is a broad term for memory loss symptoms like forgetfulness and confusion. Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior. Symptoms of Alzheimer’s usually develop slowly and gradually worsen.
Ages Affected and Progression
While Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of aging, increasing age is the greatest known risk factor. Most often, Alzheimer’s affects those who are 60 and older. Only about 5% of all the people who have it develop symptoms before age 65. The progression rate can vary for each individual.
Alzheimer’s Changes the Entire Brain
Alzheimer’s greatly affects the body’s most powerful organ — the brain. Brain cells deteriorate and die, which eventually destroys memory. Scientists believe that two abnormal structures called plaques and tangles are the leading suspects in damaging and killing brain cells. Plaques, which are deposits of protein fragments, build up between nerve cells. Also, dead and dying nerve cells have tangles, which consist of twisted strands of another protein. These structures spread through the brain’s cortex, disrupting processes that cells need to survive. Over time, the brain shrinks dramatically, affecting nearly all its functions, and the disease progresses.
Early Signs And Symptoms
Some of the early signs of Alzheimer’s may involve:
- Poor judgment and decision making
- Difficulty having a conversation
- Misplacing things and being unable to retrace steps to find them
- Losing track of the date or the season
- Challenges in planning or solving problems
If you or someone you know is experiencing these symptoms, consider seeing a doctor.
No single test can prove that a person has Alzheimer’s, but physicians will often perform a series of tests to consider all possible causes. The assessment might include:
- Brain imaging
- Mental status tests
- Genetic testing
- Medical history
- A neurological exam
- Diagnostic tests
As physicians continue to develop and improve these standard tests, researchers are studying other techniques to better diagnose and track the progress of Alzheimer’s disease. Speak with your doctor to learn more about new tests and treatments.
Typically, Alzheimer’s disease moves slowly through three general stages. Each person may experience symptoms differently.
Mild (early stage) – In the beginning, individuals may still function independently. However, close friends and family begin to observe concerns. A person may have trouble coming up with the right word or name, or they might misplace a valuable object.
Moderate (middle stage) – This is typically the longest stage, as damage to brain cells begins to make it difficult to carry out routine tasks. At this point, symptoms may include confusion about where they are, what day it is, and a higher risk of wandering and becoming lost.
Severe (late-stage) – In the final stage, individuals may have difficulty communicating and could lose awareness of their surroundings. They often need major assistance with daily activities, like bathing and eating.
It may be hard to place a person in a specific category since Alzheimer’s stages tend to overlap. When family members and caregivers are familiar with the stages they know what to expect, which might ease some uncertainty and stress going forward.
Treatment and the Future
While no cure for Alzheimer’s exists, medications can temporarily improve symptoms. Different treatments exist for sleep changes, memory, and behavior. A doctor may recommend a medication, such as memantine or donepezil, to balance mood and lower blood pressure. Also, exercising for 20-30 minutes each day will improve cardiovascular health. For further medical advice, it’s best to consult your doctor.
Today, Alzheimer’s is at the center of biomedical research. As researchers try to uncover as much as possible, they hope that a better understanding of the disease will lead to new treatments. Congress is also working on a bill that intends to improve the quality of life for those afflicted with Alzheimer’s.
Related Post: An Overview of Long Term Care Options
How We Can Help
If you or a loved one need long-term care, we are here for you. At the Davidson Law Group, our Elder Law Attorneys are passionate about helping others through life’s difficulties. We offer practical plans that protect your assets and guide you through times of uncertainty. Schedule a free consultation on our website to see how we can find solutions for you!