- What is Alzheimer's disease?
- What causes Alzheimer's disease?
- What is the Difference between Alzheimer’s and Dementia?
- How many people in the United States have Alzheimer's disease?
- What is mild cognitive impairment?
- If a family member had Alzheimer's disease, will I get it, too?
- Are there any drugs to treat Alzheimer's disease?
- What are the stages in the development of Alzheimer's disease?
- How do I know if I have (or a family member has) Alzheimer’s or dementia?
- What are the warning signs of Alzheimer's or Dementia?
- What are the differences between Alzheimer's and Normal Age-Related memory changes?
- Where can I go to learn more about Alzheimer’s Disease and related dementias?
Alzheimer's disease is a progressive and degenerative brain disorder. It impairs the ability to learn, make judgment, communicate effectively and also affects the ability to live a normal daily life. Alzheimer's can also cause changes in behavior both mentally and physically as well as trigger paranoia, anxiety, delusion and even hallucinations.
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While scientists know Alzheimer’s disease involves progressive brain cell failure, they have not yet identified any single reason why cells fail. A number of factors such as age, family history and genetics increase the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
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Dementia is a general term for a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life. Memory loss is an example. Alzheimer's is the most common type of dementia. Dementia is not a specific disease. It's an overall term that describes a wide range of symptoms associated with a decline in memory or other thinking skills severe enough to reduce a person's ability to perform everyday activities. Alzheimer's disease accounts for 60 to 80 percent of cases.
Dementia is often incorrectly referred to as "senility" or "senile dementia," which reflects the formerly widespread but incorrect belief that serious mental decline is a normal part of aging It is important to understand that dementia consists of signs and symptoms. This is because it is a syndrome and not a disease.
So the exact difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s is that dementia is a non-specific syndrome and Alzheimer is a specific disease. Many people cannot explain the difference and this is probably because Alzheimer is the most prominent cause of dementia. Other causes of dementia are Stroke, Parkinson, Lewy body disease, Fronto-temporal dementia, Huntington and even Aids/HIV.
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Estimates vary, but experts suggest that as many as 5.1 million people in the United States may have Alzheimer's disease. Symptoms usually begin after age 60, and the risk of developing the disease increases with age. While younger people in their thirties and forties also may get Alzheimer's disease, it is much less common. It is important to note that Alzheimer's disease is not a normal part of aging.
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Mild cognitive impairment, or MCI, is a condition in which people have more memory problems than normal for their age, but their symptoms are not as severe as in Alzheimer's disease. They are able to carry out their normal daily activities. They usually do not have Alzheimer's symptoms like confusion, attention problems, and difficulty with language. People with MCI are more likely to go on to develop Alzheimer's disease than are people without MCI.
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Just because a family member has Alzheimer's disease does not mean that you will get it, too. There is a rare form of Alzheimer's disease, called early-onset familial Alzheimer's, which is inherited. It occurs in people between the ages of 30 and 60 and is caused by mutations, or changes, in certain genes. Most cases of Alzheimer's are late-onset. They occur after age 60 and usually have no obvious family pattern. However, genetic factors appear to increase a person's risk of developing late-onset Alzheimer's.
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No treatment can stop Alzheimer's disease. However, four drugs are used to treat symptoms of the disease. They may help maintain thinking, memory, and speaking skills and help with some behavioral problems for a limited time. These drugs work by regulating certain chemicals in the brain.
For people with mild or moderate Alzheimer's, donepezil (Aricept®), rivastigmine (Exelon®), or galantamine (Razadyne®) may help prevent some symptoms from becoming worse for a limited time. Donepezil is also approved for symptoms of moderate to severe Alzheimer's. Another drug, memantine (Namenda®), is used to treat symptoms of moderate to severe Alzheimer's, although it is also limited in its effects.
All of these drugs have possible side effects, including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and loss of appetite. You should report any unusual symptoms to a doctor right away. It is important to follow a doctor's instructions when taking any medication.
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The course of Alzheimer's disease -- which symptoms appear and how quickly changes occur -- varies from person to person. In general, though, the disease develops slowly and follows the same mild, moderate, and severe stages.
At first, the only symptom may be mild forgetfulness. People with mild Alzheimer's may be unable to remember recent events, ask the same question over and over, and become lost in familiar places. A person may seem healthy but is actually having more and more trouble making sense of the world around him or her. Such difficulties could be due to Alzheimer's disease or another condition. A doctor should be consulted to make a diagnosis.
As the disease goes on, memory gets worse. People may have problems recognizing family and friends. It can be hard to learn new things. People in this moderate stage of Alzheimer's may behave differently, too. For example, they might be restless, agitated, or angry, or they may wander.
As Alzheimer's disease becomes more severe, people lose the ability to communicate. They may sleep more, lose weight, and have trouble swallowing. Often they cannot control their bladder and bowel. Eventually, they need total care.
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With Alzheimer's in the news so frequently, it's natural to ask sometimes if you or your family member has Alzheimer’s disease or some other dementia. This worry can be compounded for people who have a known history of Alzheimer's in their families. After all, who hasn't forgotten keys, messed up a checkbook or even neglected to pay a bill?
While it is important to continuously be aware of changes in our mental health, don’t panic. Many different factors can contribute to memory problems, so it’s important to take a close look at your situation before you begin to worry.
Things to consider include:
Changes in behavior - If you always mess up when you balance your checkbook, you probably shouldn't be too concerned if you do it again. However, if you are an accountant and the numbers no longer make sense, then it's time to consider a checkup.
New medications -These can cause havoc in your mind as well as your body.
Medication interactions - Even if you have taken the same medications for years, your body changes over time. Ask your doctor to check your medications for possible interactions, and that includes over-the-counter medications, as well as vitamins and herbs.
Emotional and physical stress- The stress could be from care giving or something else that is bothering you.
Infections- You may not be aware that you have developed a new infection that is distracting you. For instance, urinary tract infections are infamous for going "underground," and then causing confusion, anxiety and even dementia-like symptoms.
Sleep deprivation- Sleep deprivation can cause a host of problems, and many caregivers – especially those who have elders with Alzheimer's – find that they get no more than an hour or two of uninterrupted sleep at a time. Nights are fitful, and the deep sleep needed for dreaming and for memory function isn't happening. If you go too long with this cycle, you could quite possibly have some scary symptoms. If this is the case, it's likely time to get some help with your care giving.
Bottom line: if you do have symptoms that bother you, see a doctor.
Top Ten Warning Signs:
- Memory Loss: Forgetting recently learned information is one of the most common early signs of dementia. A person begins to forget more often and is unable to recall the information later.What's normal? Forgetting names or appointments occasionally.
- Difficulty performing familiar tasks: People with dementia often find it hard to plan or complete everyday tasks. Individuals may lose track of the steps to prepare a meal, place a telephone call or play a game.What's normal? Occasionally forgetting why you came into a room or what you planned to say.
- Problems with language: People with Alzheimer's disease often forget simple words or substitute unusual words, making their speech or writing hard to understand. They may be unable to find their toothbrush, for example, and instead ask for "that thing for my mouth." What's normal? Sometimes having trouble finding the right word.
- Disorientation to time and place: People with Alzheimer's disease can become lost in their own neighborhoods, forget where they are and how they got there, and not know how to get back home. What's normal? Forgetting the day of the week or where you were going.
- Poor or decreased judgment: Those with Alzheimer's may dress inappropriately, wearing several layers on a warm day or little clothing in the cold. They may show poor judgment about money, like giving away large sums to telemarketers.
What's normal? Making a questionable or debatable decision from time to time.
- Problems with abstract thinking: Someone with Alzheimer's disease may have unusual difficulty performing complex mental tasks, like forgetting what numbers are and how they should be used. What's normal? Finding it challenging to balance a checkbook.
- Misplacing things: A person with Alzheimer's disease may put things in unusual places: an iron in the freezer or a wristwatch in the sugar bowl.What's normal? Misplacing keys or a wallet temporarily
- Changes in mood or behavior: Someone with Alzheimer's disease may show rapid mood swings – from calm to tears to anger – for no apparent reason. What's normal? Occasionally feeling sad or moody.
- Changes in personality: The personalities of people with dementia can change dramatically. They may become extremely confused, suspicious, fearful or dependent on a family member. What's normal? People’s personalities do change somewhat with age.
- Loss of initiative: A person with Alzheimer's disease may become very passive, sitting in front of the TV for hours, sleeping more than usual or not wanting to do usual activities.
|Someone with Alzheimer's Disease symptoms||Someone with Normal Age-Related Memory Changes|
|Forgets entire experiences||Forgets part of an experience|
|Rarely remembers later||Often remembers later|
|Is gradually unable to follow written/spoken directions||Is usually able to follow written/spoken directions|
|Is gradually unable to use notes as reminders||Is usually able to use notes as reminders|
|Is gradually unable to care for self||Is usually able to care for self|
The Alzheimer’s Association is probably the most widely known organization to educate and raise awareness for Alzheimer’s Disease and other related demenitas. To learn more you can visit there web site at www.alz.org and/or contact your local chapter. The National Institue of Health is also a great resource for many diseases including Alzheimers and dementia. They are on line at www.nihseniorhealth.gov.
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