The devastating effects of Alzheimer’s disease on residents and their families is not always well known, but effects many. Alzheimer’s is a progressive brain disorder that affects millions of people worldwide.
We will be discussing the different stages of Alzheimer’s disease, how to recognize the early signs of the disease, and the available treatment options. Some of the main topics we will focus on are understanding this disease, cognitive impairment, treatment, the symptoms, risk factors, and the effects on the brain. This is more of a comprehensive guide to the subject as a whole. If you want to learn more or get in touch with a memory care community you can contact Waterside Landing which is a Senior Living Community.
Understanding Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia that affects a person’s memory, thinking, motor skills, and behavior. It is caused by the accumulation of plaques and tangles in the brain cells. These interfere with communication in the brain, leading to their death. This decline can look like the brain is growing smaller and less full. It is a difficult process to experience.
It progresses slowly over time, starting with cognitive impairment, and eventually leading to severe disease. It can be a long time before this begins to stop family members or friends from passing on. So being able to place them into a good home is important.
What Is Alzheimer’s Dementia?
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. It is a general term for memory loss, cognitive abilities, and other diseases serious enough to interfere with everyday living. This accounts for anywhere between 60-80% of cases. This is a huge source of cognitive impairment as we as more serious cases causing larger health issues in many elderly people. Alzheimer’s and related dementias need more care and help.
This isn’t a normal part of aging. It is something to watch out for and be aware of. The greatest known risk factor is increasing age. The majority of people with Alzheimer’s are usually 65 and older but that isn’t always the answer. Sometimes they can be older or even younger. Alzheimer’s disease is considered to be younger-onset Alzheimer’s if it affects a person under 65. Younger-onset can also be referred to as early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. People with younger-onset Alzheimer’s can be in the early stages, middle, or late stages of the disease.
Signs and Symptoms
Memory problems are typically one of the first signs of cognitive impairment related to Alzheimer’s. Some people with memory problems have a condition called Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI). With MCI, people have more memory problems than normal for their age, but their symptoms do not interfere with their everyday lives. Movement difficulties and problems with the sense of smell have also been linked to MCI. Older people with MCI are at greater risk for developing Alzheimer’s, but not all of them do so. Some may even revert to normal cognition.
The first symptoms of Alzheimer’s vary from person to person. For many, the decline in nonmemory aspects of cognition, such as word-finding, vision/spatial issues, and impaired reasoning or judgment may signal the very early stages of the disease. Researchers are studying biomarkers (biological signs of disease found in brain images, cerebrospinal fluid, and blood) to detect early changes in the brains of people with MCI and in cognitively normal people who may be at greater risk for Alzheimer’s. More research is needed before these techniques can be used broadly and routinely to diagnose Alzheimer’s in a healthcare provider’s office.
Mild Cognitive Impairment
EDIT – Mild cognitive impairment is the earliest stage of Alzheimer’s disease. People with this type of impairment may experience memory loss, difficulty performing routine tasks, and problems with language. These symptoms may be subtle and often go unnoticed, but they are important warning signs that should not be ignored.
MCI is the stage between the expected decline in memory and thinking that happens with age and the more serious decline of dementia. MCI may include problems with memory, language, or judgment. People with MCI may be aware that their memory or mental function has “slipped.” Family and close friends also may notice changes. But these changes aren’t bad enough to impact daily life or affect usual activities.
MCI may increase the risk of dementia caused by Alzheimer’s disease or other brain disorders. But some people with mild cognitive impairment might never get worse. And some eventually get better. If you have MCI, you also may experience:
- A short temper and aggression
- A lack of interest
Developing Alzheimer’s Disease
As the disease progresses, people may experience more severe cognitive impairment and other symptoms. They may have difficulty with short-term memory, struggle to find the right words when speaking, and have trouble with spatial awareness. They may also experience changes in mood, behavior, and personality. There is a risk of developing Alzheimer’s as you grow older.
Severe Alzheimer’s Disease
EDIT – In the later stages of Alzheimer’s disease, people may become completely dependent on others for their care. They may lose the ability to communicate and may experience difficulty eating, swallowing, and breathing. Behavioral symptoms such as agitation, aggression, and wandering may also occur.
Scientists continue to unravel the complex brain changes involved in Alzheimer’s disease. Changes in the brain may begin a decade or more before symptoms appear. During this very early stage of Alzheimer’s, toxic changes are taking place in the brain, including abnormal buildups of proteins that form amyloid plaques and tau tangles. Previously healthy neurons stop functioning, lose connections with other neurons, and die. Many other complex brain changes are thought to play a role in Alzheimer’s as well.
The damage initially appears to take place in the hippocampus and the entorhinal cortex, which is parts of the brain that are essential in forming memories. As more neurons die, additional parts of the brain are affected and begin to shrink. By the final stage of Alzheimer’s, the damage is widespread and brain tissue has shrunk significantly.
Treating Alzheimer’s Disease
While there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, there are treatments available that can help manage the symptoms of the disease. Medications such as cholinesterase inhibitors and memantine can help improve memory and cognitive function in some people with Alzheimer’s disease. Those who develop Alzheimer’s and related dementias can find treatment if they know the right places to look.
Lifestyle changes such as regular exercise, a healthy diet, and social engagement can also help slow the progression of the disease. We are unsure how to cure Alzheimer’s disease but we can fight it. You should spend time in the early stages when you are seeing the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease to look for a place where your loved ones can be taken care of.
EDIT – Researchers are actively studying new treatments and therapies for Alzheimer’s disease in clinical trials. These trials test new medications, therapies, and interventions to determine their effectiveness in slowing or stopping the disease process or the progression of the disease.
There is no cure for Alzheimer’s, but there are two treatments — aducanumab (Aduhelm) and lecanemab (Leqmbi) — demonstrate that removing beta-amyloid, one of the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease, from the brain, reduces cognitive and functional decline in people living with early Alzheimer’s.
Other treatments can temporarily slow the worsening of dementia symptoms and improve the quality of life for those with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers. Today, there is a worldwide effort underway to find better ways to treat the disease, delay its onset, and prevent it from developing.
It is important to note that Alzheimer’s disease is just one type of dementia. There are many other types of dementia, each with its own unique set of symptoms and causes. Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias can be difficult to diagnose, and it is important to seek medical attention if you or a loved one is experiencing symptoms of cognitive impairment.
The signs and symptoms can vary depending on the type and may include:
- Experiencing memory loss, poor judgment, and confusion
- Difficulty speaking, understanding, and expressing thoughts, or reading and writing
- Wandering and getting lost in a familiar neighborhood
- Trouble handling money responsibly and paying bills
- Repeating questions
- Using unusual words to refer to familiar objects
- Taking longer to complete normal daily tasks
- Losing interest in normal daily activities or events
- Hallucinating or experiencing delusions or paranoia
- Acting impulsively
- Not caring about other people’s feelings
- Losing balance and problems with movement
People with intellectual and developmental disabilities can also develop dementia as they age, and in these cases, recognizing their symptoms can be particularly difficult. It’s important to consider a person’s current abilities and to monitor for changes over time that could signal dementia.
Alzheimer’s Disease and Memory Care Communities
Memory care communities are specifically designed to provide care and support for people with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. These communities offer a safe and secure environment where residents can receive specialized care and assistance with daily activities. Memory care communities also provide opportunities for socialization and engagement, which can help improve the quality of life for residents with Alzheimer’s disease.
The Effect on the Brain
EDIT – Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive brain disorder that affects the communication between brain cells and leads to their death. One of the hallmark features of Alzheimer’s disease is the buildup of two abnormal protein fragments in the brain, beta-amyloid, and tau. These protein fragments clump together to form plaques and tangles, respectively, which interfere with the normal functioning of the brain.
The beta-amyloid protein fragment accumulates outside the brain cells, forming sticky clumps known as plaques. The plaques can disrupt the communication between cells and cause inflammation, leading to further damage and destruction. This accumulation of beta-amyloid in the brain is thought to be one of the primary causes of cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s disease.
The tau protein fragment, on the other hand, accumulates inside the brain, forming tangles that disrupt the normal functioning of the cell. Tau is a protein that helps to stabilize the structure of microtubules in brain cells, which are essential for transporting nutrients and other important molecules throughout the cell. When tau forms abnormal tangles, the microtubules become destabilized, and the transport of nutrients and other molecules to nerve cells is disrupted. This can cause the cells to die.
As Alzheimer’s progresses, more and more parts of the brain are affected by the plaques and tangles, leading to widespread damage and destruction throughout the brain. This can lead to a range of cognitive and behavioral symptoms, including memory loss, difficulty with language, problems with decision-making and problem-solving, and changes in mood, behavior, and personality.
Support for families and caregivers
EDIT – Caring for a person with Alzheimer’s can have significant physical, emotional, and financial costs. The demands of day-to-day care, changes in family roles, and decisions about placement in a care facility can be difficult. NIA supports efforts to evaluate programs, strategies, approaches, and other research to improve the quality of care and life for those living with dementia and their caregivers. Becoming well-informed about the disease is one important long-term strategy. Programs that teach families about the various stages of Alzheimer’s and about ways to deal with difficult behaviors and other caregiving challenges can help.
Good coping skills, a strong support network, and respite care are other things that may help caregivers handle the stress of caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s. For example, staying physically active provides physical and emotional benefits. Some caregivers have found that joining a support group is a critical lifeline. These support groups enable caregivers to find respite, express concerns, share experiences, get tips, and receive emotional comfort. Many organizations sponsor in-person and online support groups, including groups for people with early-stage Alzheimer’s and their families.
Alzheimer’s disease is a devastating brain disorder that affects millions of people worldwide with memory loss and many other symptoms that are devastating. As a member of a memory care community, I have seen firsthand the impact that the disease can have on individuals and their families. It is important to recognize the early signs of the disease and seek medical attention if you or a loved one is experiencing cognitive impairment.
While there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, there are treatments available that can help manage the symptoms and risk of developing the disease. Memory care communities provide specialized care and support for people with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, offering a safe and secure environment where residents can receive the care they need to maintain their quality of life as the disease progresses.