Alzheimer’s disease is a degenerative brain disorder that has no cure. There's no way to slow or stop its progression, and there's no proven way to prevent it.
The disease is named after Dr. Alois Alzheimer, who identified it in 1906 while treating a 51-year-old patient and discovering the two hallmarks of Alzheimer’s: plaques, which are multiple, tiny and dense protein deposits through the brain that in large levels become toxic; and tangles, nerve cells that interfere with the vital processes of the brain and eventually kill the living brain cells.
The Alzheimer’s Association has identified 10 warning signs associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Memory loss that disrupts daily life is one of the most common signs of Alzheimer’s disease, which leads to repetitive questioning, the need to rely on memory aids and forgetting recently learned information. That is unlike normal age-related memory issues, such as forgetting names and/or appointments, but these things can be recalled later.
Other indicators of the disease include challenges in planning or solving problems. A person will increasingly not be able to develop and follow a plan or work with numbers; they will have difficulty keeping track of monthly bills. Additionally, the individual will have trouble concentrating, and tasks take much longer to complete than they once did.
Familiar tasks become obstacles. For example, for someone who has always cooked, they would have great difficulty following a familiar recipe, organizing a grocery/ingredient list and following through on it.
As the disease develops, individuals will lose track of time and place and are impatient or have trouble understanding why something is not happening immediately. This is especially troublesome if someone is still driving; they may forget where they are or how they got there, and lose their way back home.
Vision problems can be a sign of the disease, and this can lead to struggles with balance and/or reading. Visual images and spatial relationships are compromised, and they may have problems judging distance and color or contrast.
Communication and language difficulties are often seen as the disease progresses. He or she may struggle with naming familiar objects or call objects by the wrong name. For instance, he or she may be holding a set of car keys and do not realize or know that they start a vehicle. Joining a conversation would be intimidating for these individuals as they would most likely stop in the middle of speaking and have no idea how to continue.
Misplacing items is another common symptom. Someone with the disease tends to put things in unusual places, losing them and not being able to retrace their steps to find them again. Paranoia may set in, and he or she may accuse others of taking their things.
The person may also show decreased or poor judgment and decision-making when it comes to managing money. In many cases, the caregiver discovers mismanagement of household finances by the individual which leads to getting an assessment and diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.
They also may lose interest in overall personal hygiene.
Experiencing memory loss, decreased communication skills and decreased judgment can cause the person with the disease to withdraw from social engagements and events. Their confidence levels diminish, which often leads to depression and a loss of interest in favorite activities or hobbies.
There are noted changes in mood and personality as someone becomes confused, suspicious, fearful and anxious.
If you or someone you know are showing these symptoms, it is important to be proactive and see a physician. Though it can be upsetting or worrisome, these are significant health concerns that need to be probed and addressed. Early detection can assist someone in maintaining his or her independence longer, increase chances to participate in clinical trials and help the individual plan for future care.