Alzheimer's is a chronic, irreversible brain disorder that progresses slowly. It is a neurodegenerative disease that destroys memory, thinking skills, reasoning and worsens over time. The loss of connections between nerve cells in the brain results in messages that are unable to be transferred between nerve cells in the brain and from the brain to muscles and organs in the body.
Symptoms of Alzheimer's disease will usually appear during our mid-60's. It is estimated that about 5.7 million Americans are living with Alzheimer's disease in 2018. The disease causes 60-70% of cases of dementia. Alzheimer's disease is one of the top 6 leading causes of death in the United States.
The following list includes the most common and severe signs or symptoms of Alzheimer's disease.
This is typically one of the first signs of cognitive impairment. Memory problems can initially be dismissed as "a normal part of aging", but these problems may start to regularly affect the person's normal level of functioning as it becomes difficult to remember recently learned facts or retain new information. More advanced signs of memory loss include forgetting names of family and friends, forgetting where they are, forgetting details about their own life history, or the inability to recall vocabulary.
The most common neuropsychiatric symptom throughout the course of the disease is apathy, a lack of interest or enthusiasm. This can include a lack of concern about their own problems or lack of effort or energy when dealing with everyday tasks. When dealing with socially or mentally challenging situations the person can become moody or withdrawn. Those with moderate Alzheimer's disease may also behave impulsively or develop repetitive behavior. They may have hallucinations, delusions, or paranoia. Changes in sleep patterns could also be a sign.
As the disease progresses, people experience other cognitive difficulties. This can include losing or misplacing things, trouble handling money and paying bills, difficulty getting dressed, finding the right word during conversations. Those suffering with Alzheimer's may need assistance or supervision performing certain activities that are cognitively demanding. A person with later-stages of Alzheimer's may need help with bathing and using the washroom. Those in the most advanced stage of this disease become completely dependent upon caregivers.
Advanced or later stages of Alzheimer's include a shrinking vocabulary and inability to recall certain words. As the disease progresses, reading and writing skills are lost. Before speech is completely lost, language is reduced to single words or simple phrases. Communicating with others becomes increasingly difficult as the person also loses the ability to respond to their environment. Severe signs of late-stage Alzheimer's disease include the ability to control movement, walk, sit, and, eventually, swallow.
Currently, there is no cure for Alzheimer's disease. Research shows a strong link between future risk of Alzheimer's and serious head trauma. However, the cause for most other cases of Alzheimer's disease is currently unknown. Evidence suggests that a nutritious diet with plenty of omega-3 fats may help prevent Alzheimer's disease by reducing beta-amyloid plaques. Supplementing with fish oil is another option. Physical activity and maintaining strong social connections might also lower the risk of developing Alzheimer's.
The information contained in this article should not be used to replace the advice, care, diagnosis or treatment from a medical doctor, certified personal trainer, therapist, dietitian, or nutritionist.