It is estimated that over 5 million people have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in the United States. However, the number of people who are affected by Alzheimer’s disease greatly increases when considering that one to four family members take on the caregiving role for each person with Alzheimer’s disease. Understanding the specifics of the disease, the difference between Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, and being able to spot the signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s can help a person prepare for the effects of the disease.
Q. What is Alzheimer’s disease?
A. Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive and degenerative disorder that attacks the cells and nerves in the brain. The breakdown of these cells destroys certain mental functions such as memory, language, and behavioral skills.
Although the actual causes of Alzheimer’s are still unknown, when examined, a person diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease will usually have two types of abnormalities on their brain. The first abnormality is plaque, which is a clump of protein called beta-amyloid that damages the brain. The buildup of plaque surrounds the outside of the brain cells causing interference with cell-to-cell communication. The second abnormality is tangles. Since brain cells need a transport system to carry nutrients, the threads that transport these nutrients twist into tangles causing a failure of transport. The breakdown in transportation is thought to be believed as a contributing factor in the decline of the brain cells.
Q. What is the difference between Alzheimer’s disease and dementia?
A. Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia. Dementia is a general term that is used to describe symptoms like memory loss and a change in judgment, intellection function, or language. It is caused from physical changes in the brain. Alzheimer’s disease is just one of several types of dementia. Other types of dementia can include: dementia with Lewy bodies, trauma dementia, alcohol dementia, and vascular dementia caused by a stroke.
Q. What are the warning signs of someone with Alzheimer’s disease?
A. If you are caring for someone and you think that they might be suffering from Alzheimer’s, here are some warning signs to help you asses if you should take further action:
- Memory loss that disrupts daily life. In the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, forgetting recent information is common. Missing appointments, forgetting important dates, needing to ask for the same information repeatedly, or relying on others to handle things that used to be handled independently are all warning signs if occurring frequently.
- Difficulty with familiar tasks. Alzheimer’s patients can have problems accomplishing daily and familiar tasks like keeping track of bills and taking longer time to do things they did before.
- Confusion with time and place. Losing track of times, places, seasons, and passage of time are all warning signs. If you notice that a person forgets where they are or how they got there, you should take action.
- Trouble understanding visual images. A sign of Alzheimer’s is having difficulty with perceptions. For example, if a person with Alzheimer’s passes his or her reflection in a mirror, he or she might think that there is another person in the room.
- Changes in mood and personality. If you have noticed that your loved one’s mood and personality has changed such as becoming easily upset, confused, depressed, anxious, or fearful, you might want to follow up with your doctor.
If you have noticed changes in your loved ones behavior or actions, you should consult a physician.
Q. What treatment is available for a person diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease?
A. There is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease. However, there are several medications available to help slow down the progression of the symptoms and help improve quality of life. Medication and treatment options may vary per person, so having an open dialogue with your physician about medications and the effects it has on your loved one is very important.
Q. How does Alzheimer’s disease affect caregivers?
A. Alzheimer’s disease can have a strong impact on caregivers. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, in 2012, 15.4 million family members and friends provided 17.5 billion hours of unpaid care to those with Alzheimer’s and other dementias. Between the cost of and time commitment, caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease can often take an emotional toll on the caregiver. It is common for caregivers to have more health issues than a non-caregiver. Caregivers should ask for help when needed, explore local resources, and understand the long-term costs for caring for an Alzheimer’s patient.
Since 1975, the VNA has been committed to bringing skilled, compassionate, and cost-effective home health care to Indian River County patients. For more information about VNA services, call 1-866-705-6681.