Alzheimer’s is a brain disorder that slowly develops over time and leads to the shrinking and death of brain cells. This destruction within the brain disrupts and destroys memory, thinking skills, and (eventually) the ability to complete daily tasks. Therefore, people with Alzheimer’s will eventually need help from others to help them complete their daily tasks.
However, know that you are not alone! There are many organizations and resources out that that can help support you and your loved ones. We understand that receiving a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s can be daunting and lead to many questions. In this article, we hope to cover some common questions regarding this disease.
What Is the Main Cause of Alzheimer’s?
The direct cause of Alzheimer’s is still unknown to most people. However, when dealing with early-onset Alzheimer’s, a specific genetic mutation may be the cause. Late-onset Alzheimer’s means that a combination of genetic, age-related changes, environmental, and lifestyle factors can contribute to the cause of this disease.
However, research has shown that Alzheimer’s patients sustain significant damage to their brain cells (neurons) due to two specific brain proteins failing to function normally. These two proteins are:
- Beta-amyloid: The beta-amyloid is a fragment of a larger protein. However, these fragments clump together and form a larger mass known as amyloid plaques. These plaques damage neurons and disrupt the communication between brain cells.
- Tau proteins: In a normal brain, tau proteins play an important role in the brain’s transport system since they carry nutrients and other essential nutrients. However, tau proteins in an Alzheimer’s brain change shape and form neurofibrillary tangles. These tangles disrupt the transport system and cause damage to brain cells.
What Are the 4 Stages of Alzheimer’s?
Alzheimer’s is a disease that progressively gets worse with time. The following four stages of Alzheimer’s are:
- Preclinical Stage
Alzheimer’s occurs within a person years before they show any signs or symptoms. It can last for many years before progressing to the next stage. During the preclinical stage, imaging has revealed that the brain begins to produce protein deposits (amyloid-beta), which are a telltale sign of Alzheimer’s disease.
- Mild, Early Stage
Mild changes in cognitive ability begin to show. Individuals are still able to go about their lives. However, people may start to forget things that should be easily remembered (such as recent conversations, events, or appointments). The ability to accomplish complex tasks, make problem-solving decisions, or make informed judgments become impacted. People within this stage are still able to live independently. However, they may have issues with:
- Remembering their name
- Remembering where they put down an object
- Staying organized
- Managing money
- Making plans
- Recalling recent events/information
- Moderate, Middle Stage
Confusion and forgetfulness increase during this stage. Individuals may need more help with daily activities and self-care. People tend to:
- Have more difficulties remembering events
- Show an increase in making poor judgments
- Start to become more confused
- Have trouble planning complex tasks
- Need help with daily activities (such as going to the bathroom, getting dressed, brushing teeth, etc.)
- Undergo significant changes in personality and behavior
- Have problems learning new things
- Have problems reading, writing, and working with numbers
- Lose track of time and space
- Start to wander away
- Have trouble sleeping
- Severe, Late Stage
During this stage, mental function further declines, and physical capabilities are seriously impacted. At this stage, people will:
- Lose many physical capabilities (I.e., walking, sitting, eating)
- Lose control of their bowels and bladder
- Lose the ability to communicate coherently
- Require daily assistance with personal and everyday activities
- Becomes unaware of their surroundings or events that occur around them
- Become more prone to developing infections (such as pneumonia)
What Are the First Physical Signs of Alzheimer’s?
The first onset of early signs and symptoms will vary from person to person. The most common early signs are when people begin to show memory issues (especially with recent events/information). However, studies have shown that people with poor coordination or balance problems are prone to develop Alzheimer’s later in life. Of course, an individual’s physical capabilities will be heavily impacted as the disease progresses. Eventually, people will have more difficulty accomplishing everyday activities (such as walking, eating, standing up, getting dressed, going to the bathroom, etc.). Issues such as stiff muscles, weak muscles, trouble controlling the bladder or bowels, shuffling or dragging of feet, and difficulty sitting up or down may also occur throughout time.
What Are 10 Early Signs of Alzheimer’s?
- Memory loss that affects daily activities: A common sign of Alzheimer’s is difficulty remembering recent information or events. People may also start to forget important dates or events. They may also repeat the same question over and over again. Family members or memory aids (I.e., sticky notes, reminders, electronic devices) may be beneficial in remembering important information.
- Issues with planning or solving problems: Alzheimer patients may find it challenging to follow recipes or plan events. Their concentration may also become impacted.
- Difficulty completing everyday activities: People with Alzheimer’s will slowly start to have more difficulties completing their usual tasks (such as shopping, driving to familiar places, cooking, using a cell phone, etc.).
- Confusion with time or place: People with Alzheimer’s will start to lose track of dates, seasons, and time. They may even forget where they are or how they got to their current location.
- Difficulty understanding spatial and visual relationships: Changes in vision may affect a person’s ability to balance or read. Their ability to judge distance and determine color or contrast can affect their driving skills.
- Problems in speaking or writing: Alzheimer’s patients may have trouble following along with conversations or finding the correct words to use. They may also find themselves repeating things often or having no idea how to continue the conversation.
- Frequently misplacing items or issues in retracing steps: Alzheimer’s patients will commonly lose things and have the inability to retrace their steps to find that item.
- Decreased or poor judgment: People with Alzheimer’s will have issues making rational decisions. For example, people may not manage money well, fall for scams, or pay less attention to personal hygiene.
- Withdrawal from social settings: Due to the increase in confusion and not being able to follow conversations- people with Alzheimer’s may start to become more withdrawn from social settings.
- Changes in mood or personality: Their personality may change, and they may become more confused, suspicious, depressed, fearful, or anxious. Alzheimer’s patients can become easily upset with loved ones when they are out of their comfort zone.
At What Age Does Alzheimer’s Kick In?
Alzheimer’s generally occurs in people who are aged 65 and older. However, younger individuals can also develop Alzheimer’s. The three main types of Alzheimer’s are:
- Early-onset Alzheimer’s: This form of Alzheimer’s affects people less than 65 years of age (generally people in their 30s to 50s). It makes up less than 5% of all Alzheimer’s cases.
- Late-onset Alzheimer’s: It is the most common form of Alzheimer’s and occurs in people 65 years and older. This disease typically arises from a combination of changes (and risk factors) that happen over time.
- Familial Alzheimer’s Disease (FAD): It is a form of Alzheimer’s (which makes up less than 1% of all cases), and doctors have linked it to genetics. At least two generations within a family are affected by this disease.
What Is the Mini-Cog Test?
The mini-Cog is a rapid screening test physicians use to help confirm a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s since it helps identify mild cognitive impairment. This test measures a person’s short-term recall and clock drawing. The one administering the test will choose a set of three words, ask the individual to remember the three words, and then ask the person to repeat the words. The individual will then have to move on to drawing a clock (which tests a person’s executive functioning [the ability to efficiently organize, plan, and carry out a set of tasks]). The person will then have to recall the three words they were asked to remember at the beginning. One point is given for each word the individual can correctly remember. Two points are given to the individual if they draw the clock correctly (making it possible to earn a total of 5 points). Thus, earning only zero, one, or two points indicates there is a cause for concern in a person’s cognitive function.
What Are the 3 Foods That Fight Memory Loss?
Knowing how to maintain your brain health can be beneficial. Of course, this should never substitute professional guidance from your doctor. However, having a healthy and well-balanced diet can always help ensure that we are adequately fueling our bodies. The following three foods may help improve memory loss. These foods include:
Adding fish (such as salmon, tuna, herring, etc.) to your diet can be beneficial. The omega-3 fatty acids found within fish are beneficial for learning and memory since they aid in building brain and nerve cells.
Berries such as strawberries, blackberries, and blueberries can help improve memory The vitamins, minerals, and fiber found in various berries can help mental function.
- Whole Grains
Consider incorporating brown rice, quinoa, oatmeal, whole grain bread, whole grain pasta, and buckwheat into your diet. Whole grains contain complex carbohydrates that break down slowly within our bodies and release sugar. Reducing sugar intake is beneficial since a high-sugar diet is generally associated with accelerated cognitive impairment.
How Long Can a Person Live with Alzheimer’s?
It is difficult to pinpoint the exact time period of how long a person will live once they are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Life expectancy will vary amongst individuals (as well as their age and what stage they are in). Sources state that the average life expectancy can range from 3 to 11 years after diagnosis. However, many individuals have lived beyond that (especially with new research and treatment options emerging).
Underlying medical conditions (such as cardiovascular disease) may also impact a person’s quality of life. Research has shown that pneumonia is a common cause of death because impaired swallowing may allow foods or liquids to enter the lungs. Other common causes of death include dehydration, malnutrition, falls, and other infections.
Do Alzheimer Patients Ever Get Better?
Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s. Specific medications can help slow the progression of the disease or help manage symptoms. However, nothing can reverse or stop the damage this disease causes to the brain. The disease slowly progresses until the individual can no longer safely care for themselves.
Are Alzheimer’s Patients Aware of Their Condition?
It’s hard to say whether Alzheimer’s patients are aware of their condition. Many individuals may be unaware of their condition (especially in the beginning and late stages of their disease). At the start, individuals may be unaware of their inability to remember because it will be very subtle. However, as their shortcoming become more apparent- this may lead to emotions of anger and frustration. As the disease progresses, individuals may not be lucid enough to realize their surroundings. Also, damage sustained to the brain may lead to individuals believing nothing is wrong.
How Quickly Does Alzheimer’s Disease Progress?
The rate of progression will vary from individual to individual. Generally, Alzheimer’s slowly progresses as time passes- but progression will vary amongst individuals. Be mindful that taking certain medications and making healthy lifestyle changes will also help slow disease progression. It is also important to note that preclinical and moderate/mild stages are the ones that can last for years before moving on to the next level. Of course, everyone is different- and it is hard to know how quickly or slowly the disease will progress.
Is Alzheimer’s Preventable?
As of now, there is no clear evidence of the exact steps you can take to prevent Alzheimer’s. However, there are healthy lifestyle choices you can make to help reduce your risk and improve your overall health. That is not to say that enacting these changes/decisions will 100% prevent your chances of developing Alzheimer’s. But practicing these healthy lifestyle choices will help improve your brain health. Several of these actions include:
- Avoid smoking
- Limiting alcohol consumption
- Eating a healthy balanced diet (rich in fruits, vegetables, and lean protein)
- Engaging in physical exercise that you enjoy
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Avoiding head injuries
- Taking care of your mental health
- Controlling cardiovascular risk factors
- Staying mentally active
What Are Common Behaviors Caused by Alzheimer’s Disease?
- Aggression and Anger: People may become verbally or physically aggressive- and it can happen out of nowhere. Physical discomfort, environmental factors, and poor communication may cause these feelings within an individual.
- Anxiety and Agitation: People with Alzheimer’s may become restless or upset when they are in a particular place or focus on specific details. Certain medications or circumstances may also trigger these feelings. Feelings of anxiety and agitation may also result from the person’s inability to process new information or stimulus.
- Depression: It is common for individuals to experience depression (especially during the early and middle stages). However, diagnosing depression in an Alzheimer’s patient may be difficult because symptoms can overlap. Also, be mindful that cognitive impairment may affect how someone with Alzheimer’s experiences symptoms. Their symptoms of depression may be less severe and may not last as long. They may also be less likely to talk about suicide.
- Suspicions and Delusions: Delusions may start around the middle or late stage of the disease. Confusion and memory loss can cause this behavior to worsen. Someone with Alzheimer’s may accuse others of theft, infidelity, or improper manners. Sometimes, this behavior can even border into paranoia.
- Memory Loss and Confusion: In the late stages of the disease, individuals may not remember familiar people, places, or things. In the early stages, memory loss can be mild- and individuals may even be aware (and frustrated) that they cannot recall recent events, make complex decisions, or process information another person said. As time passes, memory loss and confusion increase in severity. Individuals may not remember loved ones, become confused about time and place, and even forget how to use everyday items (such as eating utensils).
- Hallucinations: Hallucinations mean that an individual may smell, taste, or feel something that is not there. Not all hallucinations may be frightening- some may involve visions of people, objects, or situations from the past. The hallucination may be vivid that the person affected may even hear voices or engage in conversion with the imagined person.
- Repetition: Deterioration of brain cells may affect a person’s ability to recall if they already asked or did something. Therefore, an Alzheimer’s patient may repeat something over and over again.
- Wandering: Because the disease causes people to no longer recognize familiar faces or places, they may become lost and start to wander. This behavior becomes more common in the later stages of the disease. It may be helpful to stay close to a person to avoid them becoming stressed or lost (especially in crowded places).
- Sleep Issues: People living with Alzheimer’s (or other dementias) may have problems sleeping or experience an increase in confusion, anxiety, agitation, pacing, or disorientations from dusk and throughout the night (also known as sundowning).
We understand how stressful it can be to receive a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or other dementias. It is why here, at FEBO, we have created this first part of the article to cover general questions and information regarding Alzheimer’s. Even though there is no cure, there are still a lot of resources that can provide significant help. Many conditions can also cause memory loss or affect critical thinking. Therefore, we highly recommend seeing your physician to discuss your concerns and receive a complete medical evaluation. Even if you receive a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, there are still many benefits to receiving an early and accurate diagnosis.