Understanding Alzheimer’s disease and its symptoms
What is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s Disease is a form of dementia, a condition that affects the brain, especially with age. The National Institute on Aging offers a simple definition. “Alzheimer’s Disease is a brain disorder that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills and, eventually, the ability to carry out the simplest tasks.”
An estimated 6.7 million Americans ages 65 and older are living with Alzheimer’s disease. By 2050, researchers expect that number to increase to 13 million. Unfortunately, the exact cause of Alzheimer’s disease is unknown.
Signs and symptoms
The Alzheimer’s Association identifies the following as the 10 common signs of Alzheimer’s disease.
- Trouble remembering things and memory loss that affects daily life.
- Challenges with ability to solve problems or follow a plan, such as paying bills or following a recipe.
- Difficulty performing common tasks such as remembering the rules to a favorite game or getting lost in familiar places.
- Confusion with dates, time, or place.
- Vision changes that result in balance issues, identifying color, or problems driving.
- Difficulty finding words or following a conversation.
- Misplacing things or putting things in unusual places.
- Changes in ability to make decisions, such as not bathing or using poor judgement when dealing with money.
- Being less social, withdrawing from friends and family, or having less interest in activities once enjoyed.
- Changes in mood or personality, such as confusion, anxiety, or suspicion, or getting upset easily.
As the disease progresses, those with Alzheimer’s may no longer recognize loved ones or be able to live on their own.
The difference between “normal aging” and Alzheimer’s
As we age, we all experience changes in the way we think and feel. It’s “normal” to sometimes forget where you put your keys or a scheduled appointment. We might make errors when paying bills on occasion. You might even forget what day it is for a moment. Or it could be a struggle to find the right word sometimes. When these things happen occasionally, it’s often due to aging. But if it happens regularly or gets worse, it could be a sign of Alzheimer’s and it’s best to get checked.
Risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease
- Age. As age increases, so does the risk of Alzheimer’s. About 10 percent of those at age 65 have Alzheimer’s; 50 percent at age 85.
- Family history. If your mother, father, brother, or sister had Alzheimer’s, your chance is seven times greater for developing the disease.
- Genetics. If you carry a certain gene (APOe-4) you are at an increased risk of developing the disease in later life.
- Gender. Women are more often diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. In fact, two-thirds of all patients are women.
- Certain medical conditions. Stroke, diabetes, hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid), heart disease, depression, or a head injury increase the risk of Alzheimer’s.
How is Alzheimer’s diagnosed?
Alzheimer’s disease is diagnosed through a combination of a physical exam, neurological tests, blood tests, and diagnostic imaging scans. It also often includes talking with your family members as well to get a full picture of the patient.
Who should get tested?
If you or someone you know is showing any of the 10 warning signs, schedule a doctor’s appointment and get checked for Alzheimer’s disease. Why Get Checked | Alzheimer’s Association.
Treating Alzheimer’s disease
Despite much research, there is still no cure for Alzheimer’s Disease. However, when diagnosed in its early stages, there are approved treatments that can slow its progress. That’s why it’s important to talk to your doctor if you are experiencing any of the signs and symptoms.
How to reduce your risk for Alzheimer’s and keep your brain healthy.
The good news? You can reduce your risk by living a healthy lifestyle.
- Reduce your stress. We all have stress. Knowing how to manage it and reduce your stress level can impact your health and your brain. Things like yoga, meditation, or a walk can help you manage your stress.
- Eat well. Just like your heart, your brain needs healthy foods to function at its best. Focus on eating whole, natural foods like fruits and vegetables, beans and legumes, whole grains, and lean protein. Avoid processed foods and those with a lot of added sugar.
- Manage your diabetes. Diabetes has far-reaching effects. If you have diabetes, be sure to manage your condition to keep your blood sugar in its target range.
- Get exercise. Moving your body increases your blood flow and helps your heart and brain stay healthy. Aim for a at least 150 minutes of exercise each week.
- Keep your brain active. It’s good to keep your brain active, especially as you age. Doing crossword puzzles, word games, or reading are great activities for your brain. It’s also good to challenge your brain. Try learning a new language. Or you could learn to play a musical instrument or how to knit.
- Stay social. Research shows that spending time with others is good for the brain. It also helps lower blood pressure, decrease depression, and reduce the risk of dementia.
The Alzheimer’s Association offers resources and support groups through local chapters across the country. You can learn more and find your local chapter here: Find Your Local Chapter | Alzheimer’s Association.
8:00 am to 8:00 pm ET, Monday through Friday, and 8:00 am to 6:00 pm ET, Saturday and Sunday