Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common form of dementia found among people advanced in age, appearing particularly in people over 60 years old. Occurring when damage to the nerve cells spread throughout the brain, the disease is an irreversible brain disease that results in the deterioration of cognitive functioning, which includes thinking and remembering.
The symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease begin slowly. Often attributed to old age, people gradually start being more forgetful, which then progresses into more serious problems in judgment and recognition and then, later, affects the person’s ability to function in daily life.
The early warning signs of Alzheimer’s Disease
An aging person might start showing signs of memory loss, signalling the weakening of their cognitive health. This often happens before any deterioration in terms of physical independence happens. But not all signs of forgetfulness should be attributed to Alzheimer’s Disease. Here are the 10 widely accepted early warning signs of Alzheimer’s Disease.
- Memory loss that affects daily activities
It is normal for an elderly person to occasionally forget names and appointments, but a person who keeps forgetting recently learned information or keeps asking the same information a number of times could be developing Alzheimer’s Disease.
- Challenges in solving problems
Many people, old or young, make errors every now and then. However, a person might be showing an early warning sign of Alzheimer’s Disease if they have difficulty staying on top of simple tasks like following a recipe.
- Difficulty in performing daily tasks
While it is normal for older people to have problems navigating around modern technology, a healthy senior should not have any difficulty performing the tasks that they are used to doing, such as driving or playing a familiar game.
- Getting times and places mixed up
It is normal for everyone to occasionally forget the date or even the day of the week, but consider it an early warning sign if your elderly loved one keeps losing track of the current season or does not notice the passage of time as you do.
- Trouble in reading and judging distances
It is common for many older people to have to use reading glasses when reading, but actual difficulty in understanding the words is a problem. Some older people also have trouble judging distances, while others fail to recognize themselves in the mirror.
- Challenges in conversing
Most of us have experienced struggling to find the right word, but a person showing early warning signs of Alzheimer’s Disease will have trouble conversing. A person with the disease might stop in the middle of the conversation and forget what you were just talking about. Some will also experience repeating the same thing they just said.
- Losing the ability to track their own things
It is completely normal for everyone to misplace things every now and then, but a person suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease would not have the ability to track their own things. They might put things in unusual places (reading glasses inside the refrigerator) and then accuse someone else of stealing their belongings.
- Poor judgment
Everyone occasionally makes rash decisions, especially with money, but an elderly with Alzheimer’s Disease can be at a real risk of being a victim of huge scams because of poor judgment. They might also start paying less attention to personal hygiene.
- Lack of interest in social activities
It is typical for people to withdraw from social activities due to tiredness or a busy schedule, but you might notice your loved one with Alzheimer’s Disease would show lack of real interest in things they used to love, like hobbies, talking to friends or watching their favorite sport.
- Personality changes
Finally, a person who exhibits symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease would also exhibit drastic changes in their personality, which include but are not limited to confusion, suspicion, fear, and depression. This is different from the temporary negative feelings everyone experiences from time to time.
If you feel like your loved one is exhibiting these early warning signs of Alzheimer’s Disease, contact their primary care physician right away to get a proper diagnosis.
The cause of Alzheimer’s Disease
A person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease increases with age. While the exact cause of the disease is still unknown, scientists believe that it is triggered by a combination of lifestyle, environmental, and genetic factors.
It is believed that brain cell or neuron damage is the primary underlying cause of Alzheimer’s Disease. There are two ways brain cell damage can happen. First, brain cells can be damaged by plaques, which contain deposits of beta-amyloid, a protein fragment, and build up between the nerve cells. Second, brain cells can also be damaged by tangles, which are twisted fibers of a protein called tau.
These plaques and tangles tend to follow a predictable pattern, beginning in areas vital to learning and memory before spreading to other regions of the brain. While people can develop plaques and tangles with age, people who have Alzheimer’s Disease tend to have a lot more than the common person.
As aforementioned, the risk of developing the condition increases with age, but a family history of Alzheimer’s Disease puts a person at an even higher risk of getting the disease.
The role of genetics in dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease
While factors like age, medical history, environment, and lifestyle all play a role in developing Alzheimer’s Disease, the science of genetics also plays a significant part in understanding the nature of the condition.
Each person has a unique genetic code and genetic variation, which means that you will have a slightly different version of a gene even from your family. These genes sometimes slightly alter a person’s risk of getting lifestyle diseases like diabetes, cancer, and Alzheimer’s Disease.
Having a relative with the disease does not automatically mean you will get it, too, as there are other factors to be considered. It is, however, important to understand that your risk factor is high and, therefore, need to do preventive measures as early as possible.
Researchers were able to identify several genetic factors that might put some families at an increased risk of developing dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease.
First, there are what experts call faulty genes. In this case, which happens to be very rare, a person might inherit a gene from one of their parents that does not function properly. Called a genetic mutation, this gene might affect how the body functions, which can cause the person to develop a disease even with the lack of other risk factors.
In some cases, a person might develop a rare form of dementia from these faulty genes, which are hereditary, are passed directly from an affected parent, and affect many members of the family. Having one of these genetic predispositions or mutations can definitely put a person at risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease during their lifetime.
Next, a person might develop one of the most common forms of the disease, which is late-onset Alzheimer’s Disease, if they carry some risk genes. Late-onset Alzheimer’s Disease commonly affects people over 65 years old and is likely caused by a combination of risk factors including age, environment, lifestyle, and genetics.
A person might carry some risk genes associated with Alzheimer’s Disease. Scientists have found over twenty different genes which might affect a person’s risk to ever developing the disease. However, not every version of the gene has a huge impact on the risk.
Finally, scientists have also discovered the most well-known risk gene that is known to elevate a person’s risk of getting Alzheimer’s Disease. APOE is a gene that produces a protein that keeps the brain cells happy. It has three different versions, APOE2, APOE3, and APOE4, and a person inherits one APOE gene from each parent.
It has been found out that in some cases, a person who has one copy of APOE4 is three times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s Disease. Not only that, they are also at risk of developing the condition at a younger age. And in rarer cases, if a person inherits two copies of APOE4, they are eight times more likely to get the disease.
However, it is also worth noting that due to other contributing factors, a person at risk may never develop Alzheimer’s Disease.
Genetic testing for Alzheimer’s Disease
Due to scientific breakthroughs in the medical field, genetic testing can be done to determine whether a person has inherited a risk gene associated with a particular disease. This could help us assess our risk level and prevent the disease by improving our lifestyles.
A genetic predisposition test panel conducted at a reputable DNA testing facility will determine if you are at risk of getting a list of diseases, which includes Alzheimer’s Disease.
Aside from understanding your personal risks, remember that faulty genes associated with Alzheimer’s Disease are passed on to children. This means that if you happen to be carrying a faulty gene, your children will have one in two chances of inheriting the same gene, which also puts them at risk of developing the condition.
Called predictive genetic testing, this type of DNA test is conducted before the development of symptoms. Ideally, the whole family should be involved in making the decision to undergo genetic testing. If a person is tested and their specific genetic mutation is determined, then the children and the siblings would also be encouraged to undergo testing,
Alzheimer’s Disease: after the diagnosis
Understanding your risks of getting Alzheimer’s Disease is one thing; seeing the early warning signs of the condition being exhibited by a family member is another. Understand that it is normal for the family to grieve. In the meantime, process these emotions and help your loved one cope with the diagnosis.
You know your loved one more than anyone else, so allow them to cope with the news in their own way. Some people would like company, while others prefer to be left alone for a while. You might want to ask your healthcare provider to refer you to a counselor or a local support group that could help your family during this trying time.
It is also important to try not to panic and stay on top of things. Remember that your loved one would be very vulnerable and it is import ant that their caregiver is vigilant in preventing potentially stressful and dangerous situations from happening.
With Alzheimer’s Disease, your loved one loses the ability to look after themselves and perform daily tasks. Check for potential hazards at home, like the stairs, that could put them in danger. Install a shower chair and grab bars in the bathroom to prevent them from accidentally falling. Spot slippery surfaces and place non-slip mats or carpets on the floor.Remember to lock up toxic chemicals, knives, sharp tools as well as electrical appliances and install childproof latches on the cabinets that contain them. Also lock up matches, lighters, alcohol, and plastic bags. It is also worth doing to remove locks from the doors, apart from the front and back doors, to keep your loved one from accidentally locking themselves in.
Don’t forget to look thoroughly for seemingly safe but potentially hazardous objects. Remove fake fruits, vegetables, and drinks from the house that could look edible to your loved one. Remove plants that are toxic when eaten. In general, avoid clutter and things that might cause them to trip and fall; instead, keep the whole house as clean as possible.
If you have glass doors and windows, put a mark on them to make them visible. Cover unused electrical plugs. If you have a swimming pool, keep it covered. Also consider removing bikes and other vehicles if they have advanced dementia.
If they are experiencing physical limitations, make sure all areas of the house are accessible by a wheelchair or a walker. Install sturdy ramps or steps and widen the doorways. Put night lights that automatically turn on at night all over the house.
Another thing worth considering is removing the house phone. The sound of the phone could be confusing and even frightening for a person with Alzheimer’s Disease, not to mention they could take a call of a potential scammer.
Finally, install smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors and place them near the kitchen and the bedrooms. It is also helpful to install a CCTV or a baby monitor at home to make sure your loved one is under constant supervision. Don’t forget to check the locks of both the front door and the backdoor as well as the windows. Keep a spare set of the house keys with you.
Simply making your home as safe as possible will allow your loved one to still function as independently as their condition allows and, at the same time, lessen the stress on your part.
Caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s Disease
The diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease is a serious and grave news for most people, and it often signals many drastic changes in the house and in the dynamics of a family’s relationship. Caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s Disease is challenging not only because of the patient’s loss of cognitive awareness but also because of unpredictable personality changes.
To help you deal with the difficulties of caring for a loved one with dementia, here are a few tips you should remember.
First, avoid resenting your loved one by remembering that they are not in control of their memory loss and other related symptoms. Reminding yourself that it is the disease that causes them to make hurtful remarks might help you be more patient with your loved one.
Second, don’t let the disease keep you from expressing your love to each other. They are still the same person, and even though things are changing, sneak in little loving moments like holding their hand and kissing their cheek. You might also discover that simply preparing their favorite meal will make their day… and yours, too.
Next, add a generous sprinkling of humor to your day. Recall funny things with your loved one or share a joke you recently heard with them and laugh together. Laughter benefits not just the patient but also the caregiver.
Finally, do not expect to do it all by yourself. Do not turn down help from family members; instead, delegate tasks to each member of the family. If your family is unavailable, reach out to your community and ask for your neighbors’ assistance in doing chores or errands. You might find that there are people who are very willing to help out. You can also join a local or online support group for encouragement as well as offers of help.
Curbing the symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease
Currently, there is still no known cure for Alzheimer’s Disease. While there are certain medications prescribed to patients, these are meant to temporarily relieve the symptoms and are not meant to treat the disease.
Fortunately, there is a way to curb the symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease and prevent it from advancing. Scientists conducted studies on people already diagnosed with early stages of Alzheimer’s and found out that exercising produced a significant positive impact on the condition.
Researchers discovered that physical activity, or moderate to high intensity workouts in particular, slowed down the biological symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease. Furthermore, these workouts were also shown to result in improvements in cognitive functions.
A study was conducted by Dr. Steen Hasselbalch from the University of Copenhagen on 200 people diagnosed with mild or moderate Alzheimer’s Disease. Some of the participants were assigned to exercise three times a week for 16 weeks, while the rest continued without regular physical regimen. The exercisers were told to work out at a moderate to intense level to achieve 70% to 80% of their maximum heart rate.
At the end of the study, Dr. Hasselbalch and his team found that the exercisers exhibited fewer symptoms such as mood change, depression, and anxiety than the group that did not exercise. All participants were also tested on memory, language, mental speed, and other cognitive functions, and the exercisers performed better intellectually.
Moderate to intense workouts are indeed challenging to older adults who are used to living a sedentary lifestyle. With this said, experts recommend that patients begin with a level of intensity that they are comfortable with and gradually increase the intensity level.
According to Dr. Hasselbalch, the level of intensity of the workout is important to achieve favorable results, but even simply getting out of the house and interacting with other people could reduce the mood-related symptoms of the disease. The benefits produced by physical activity show us that Alzheimer’s Disease is not a dead end as it was once thought to be.
Alzheimer’s Disease is a progressive brain disease that affects an older person’s cognitive abilities. A patient who has the disease will exhibit tell-tale symptoms like memory loss, poor judgment, difficulty in performing familiar tasks, lack of interest in hobbies, and personality change or mood swings.
While the exact cause of Alzheimer’s Disease has yet to be pinpointed by doctors, it is recognized that the condition is triggered by a combination of lifestyle, environmental, and genetic factors. For some people, their risk of developing the condition is higher because they inherited certain genes associated with the disease. Fortunately, genetic testing can be done to determine a person’s risk levels as well as their family’s.
Patients who have mild Alzheimer’s are encouraged to work out regularly in order to curb the symptoms. In the end, whether you have been tested for a risk gene or not, and whether you have a family history of the condition, it is very important to live a healthy lifestyle that could prevent not just Alzheimer’s Disease but also a host of other lifestyle diseases.
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