As we grow older, our risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease and dementia increases. There are around 5 million people worldwide with dementia, and up to 70% of them have Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive neurologic disorder, which means it worsens as the disease advances. The brain shrinks and cells die, which causes cognitive decline, and diminishing behavioral and social skills – most end up unable to function independently.
Early symptoms include forgetting recent conversations and events, and memory loss worsens as the disease progresses. Medication can slow the symptoms, and treatments may actually help increase independence and functionality.
We still don’t fully understand the cause of Alzheimer’s disease, but we know some of the risk factors, and age is the best-known risk factor.
While genes may play a role, healthy lifestyle habits can minimize your risk despite your family history. Scientists are still investigating whether education, diet, and environment affect the risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease.
Those who have Down syndrome seem to be more at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, as do those with head trauma.
The main symptom is memory loss. It gets progressively worse as the disease advances, with the patient initially being aware that they’re missing memories and thoughts.
They may repeat themselves, forget conversations and meetings, lose their possessions, or get lost even in familiar places. As it progresses, they might forget the names of basic objects and even their family and have difficulty expressing themselves, especially verbally.
Those with Alzheimer’s disease may find it hard to focus, especially with numbers and multi-tasking. Their judgment and decision-making may also be impaired, including in social situations and even basic activities like dressing themselves.
Familiar tasks may also become a struggle as they can no longer remember the steps. Due to the brain changes, those with Alzheimer’s disease may also experience mood swings and changes in behavior. Mood swings and emotional upheavals include depression, apathy, more irritability and aggression, and even delusions. They might also grow increasingly distrustful of others, or become socially withdrawn. Sleeping habits may also change drastically.
Fortunately, some skills might be retained for longer. Those with Alzheimer’s disease may still be able to read, tell stories, sing, dance, draw or do crafts.
If you suspect a loved one has Alzheimer’s disease, consult a doctor as soon as you can to get a diagnosis. It may not be Alzheimer’s disease – though if it is, early detection will allow you to start planning earlier when it comes to treatment and finances.
While there’s currently no known cure for Alzheimer’s disease, treatment focuses on keeping the brain healthy, managing behavioral symptoms, and slowing down the symptoms.
A lot of people with Alzheimer’s disease are taken care of by family members at home. This can be difficult for both the caregiver and the patient, and can sometimes be overwhelming or frustrating. It is crucial for family and friends to show their support, in whatever ways possible.