With over 5.4 million Americans with Alzheimer’s disease, it is safe to say the majority of us will be affected by dementia in some form or fashion; and the numbers are expected to double within the next 30 years. While not a normal part of aging, the risk for developing dementia and/or Alzheimer’s disease increases with advanced age. Whether as a caregiver, a patient, or a part of their supportive network; make sure you understand the basics about dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
What Is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is a degenerative neurological disorder, and the most common form of dementia. The damage to these nerve cells result in memory loss, behavior changes, or the ability to think clearly. For those with Alzheimer’s disease, this damage will eventually lead to the inability to carry out even basic bodily functions (for example – walking, swallowing, etc.). In the late stages of this disease, patient generally require around-the-clock care.
What Are Signs of Alzheimer’s Disease?
It is important to stress that not every memory lapse or confused moment is a sign of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease; and the majority of seniors will experience some form of forgetfulness during their lives. Therefore, it is important to be able to tell the difference between early warning signs and normal signs of aging.
|Early Warning Signs||Normal Signs of Aging|
|Loved One Cancels All Regular Interests and Activities||Loved One Cancels Social Obligations or Engagements|
|Continuously Putting Essential Items in Strange Places (Ex. Car keys in the dishwasher)||Unable to Locate Their Car Keys|
|Not Remembering Entire Conversations||Not Remembering Parts of Conversations|
|Unable to Figure Balances, Calculations, or Other Problem Solving Issues.||Forgetting to Write Down Check Information|
What Are My Risks of Contracting Alzheimer’s Disease?
The primary risks for developing Alzheimer’s disease is the same for everyone and is determined by age, genetics, and family history. However, there are some risk factors you can influence; and these can include:
- Keeping Diabetes in Check
- Excess Alcohol
- High Blood Pressure
- High Cholesterol
- Heart Disease
- Maintaining a Healthy Heart
- Maintaining a Healthy Weight
- Tobacco Usage
How Many Stages Are There?
Alzheimer’s Disease (and many other forms of dementia) are categorized into three main stages: Mild, Moderate, and Severe. During the initial Mild stages, patients are able to retain their insight into what is going on around them. While they will experience times of confusion or forgetfulness, many patients are typically able to hide many of the signs and symptoms of this stage of their illness.
Unlike the Mild stage, patients in the Moderate stage can no longer hide their condition. Many patients will begin experiencing problems with: forgetting friends or family members, paying their bills on time, even personality changes. Over time, these periods of confusion or forgetfulness will gradually worsen.
During the Severe, or final stages of Alzheimer’s disease; the disease has become more pronounced. Not only has the illness affected issues with memory, but it has also placed the patient at a greater risk for other diseases.
What Can I Do to Help?
A diagnosis for Alzheimer’s disease can be devastating, but it isn’t the end of the world. While there currently is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, there are two things you can do to help. First and foremost, enjoy the time you still have together. From their hobbies, to daily chats about their childhood; take the time to learn all you can about their life. Remember it isn’t the activity that is important, it is spending the time together.
However, the most important thing you can do for your loved one is to be there for them. Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia are physically and emotionally demanding on everyone involved. You need to understand upfront, this is not something anyone can handle on their own. An emotional support network is vital for everyone involved, and the goal is to have somewhere to turn to for everyone involved to discuss the problems they are experiencing.