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Dementia is a broad term, classifying a number of disorders that all impair cognition, thinking skills, behaviors, social skills and relationships in different ways. General signs and symptoms of dementia include trouble remembering things that just happened or happened recently, regularly misplacing everyday items like a wallet or keys, trouble planning meals or remembering to eat, forgetting to pay bills, difficulty remembering how to get to familiar places and missing scheduled appointments to name a few. If you or a loved one are experiencing any of these symptoms or similar, it is important that you notify someone and plan to see your doctor immediately. Dementia tends to progress over time, with symptoms starting as mild and gradually getting worse. Early diagnosis can maximize available treatment options and potentially open the door to inclusion in clinical trials. Considering disorders with dementia symptoms affect memory and cognition, it may be difficult for an individual to recognize these symptoms in themselves. Family members and friends play a crucial role in noticing changes and raising awareness about potential cognitive disorders.
Early detection allows doctors to determine what the cause of an individual’s cognitive deficit is. If diagnosed with dementia, a doctor can classify which type of dementia an individual has, which can help individuals and their loved ones better understand their disease as well as appropriately plan for treatment.
Included within the classification of dementia is Alzheimer’s, which is the most common form of dementia and accounts for 60-80% of all cases. It is important to note that Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of aging, though age is the greatest known risk factor for individuals who develop Alzheimer’s. Most individuals who are diagnosed are 65 years of age and above, with early-onset or younger-onset Alzheimer’s referring to individuals who are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s before the age of 65. Other risk factors include genetics, family history, and risk factors classified as “other”. These include past head injury and the overall health of one’s aging process. While many of these are non-modifiable risk factors, such as aging, genetics and family history, you can facilitate healthy aging by eating a nutritious diet, getting regular exercise, avoiding smoking and alcohol, and visiting your doctor regularly.
Alzheimer’s is due to physical changes in the brain. Current research has led scientists to understand that a part of the brain isn’t working properly in individuals with Alzheimer’s, which causes atrophy or shrinkage and death of brain cells. Though it has not yet been identified where the damage begins, research has shown that two types of proteins called plaques and tangles are responsible for much of the brain cell damage and death. Over time, more and more cells shrink and die, leading to irreversible changes in the brain.
The initial changes to the brain begin before any signs and symptoms become present, so it is important to be able to identify early potential symptoms of Alzheimer’s. Early signs and symptoms include forgetting recent conversations and events, misplacing items, forgetting names of common places and objects, repeating questions, poor judgment, difficulty making decisions, isolation from family or friends, and becoming increasingly resistant to change.
Middle-stage symptoms show worsening memory problems. This includes difficulty remembering the names of people they know and struggling to recognize friends and family. Other symptoms at this stage may include getting lost or not knowing what time of day it is, obsessive and repetitive behavior, delusions and paranoia, problems with speech and language, disturbed sleep, and mood changes. Ultimately, in the end stages of Alzheimer’s, symptoms will become so severe that individuals will become totally dependent on their caretaker. While many things may cause memory or cognitive impairment and the early signs of Alzheimer’s may appear unassuming, it is important to contact your doctor if you are experiencing any dementia-like symptoms.
While there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, there are several medications that can slow disease progression and aid in symptom management, such as reducing depression and anxiety. In addition to medication management, facilitating a healthy lifestyle can significantly improve an individual’s lifespan and quality of life with this disease. Consider incorporating regular exercise and eating a diet consisting of less processed foods, while adding in more fresh fruits and vegetables. Reduce or eliminate smoking and alcohol consumption. Spend time with family and friends and take part in social activities and hobbies that inspire joy and encourage engagement with others. If you are taking care of a loved one with Alzheimer’s, try to encourage them to partake in these lifestyle behaviors. In conjunction with current treatments, the quest to better understand Alzheimer’s and ultimately find a cure is at the forefront of biomedical research.
The challenge of being the loved one or family member of someone diagnosed with Alzheimer’s is not overlooked. If you are a caretaker, make sure you are taking your own health and wellness into consideration. Find individuals that can help with care and consider joining a support group of individuals that you can talk to about your situation.
If you need help, contact the Alzheimer’s Association 24/7 Helpline: 800-272-3900
Image 1 – https://www.alz.org/alzheimers-dementia/what-is-dementia
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Image 3 – https://mind.help/topic/alzheimers/
Alzheimer’s Association – https://www.alz.org/alzheimers-dementia/what-is-dementia
American Brain Foundation –
NHS – https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/alzheimers-disease/symptoms/
Mayo Clinic –