Alzheimer’s Disease: Symptoms, Complications, Treatments And Prevention
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive disease that destroys memory and other important mental functions.
It’s the most common cause of dementia — a group of brain disorders that results in the loss of intellectual and social skills. These changes are severe enough to interfere with day-to-day life.
In Alzheimer’s disease, the connections between brain cells and the brain cells themselves degenerate and die, causing a steady decline in memory and mental function.
Brain changes associated with Alzheimer’s disease lead to growing trouble with:
Everyone has occasional memory lapses. It’s normal to lose track of where you put your keys or forget the name of an acquaintance. But the memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s disease persists and worsens, affecting your ability to function at work and at home. People with Alzheimer’s may:
Repeat statements and questions over and over, not realizing that they’ve asked the question before
Forget conversations, appointments or events, and not remember them later
Routinely misplace possessions, often putting them in illogical locations
Eventually forget the names of family members and everyday objects
Disorientation and misinterpreting spatial relationships
People with Alzheimer’s disease may lose their sense of what day it is, the season, where they are or even their current life circumstances. Alzheimer’s may also disrupt your brain’s ability to interpret what you see, making it difficult to understand your surroundings. Eventually, these problems may lead to getting lost in familiar places.
Speaking and writing
Those with Alzheimer’s may have trouble finding the right words to identify objects, express thoughts or take part in conversations. Over time, the ability to read and write also declines.
Thinking and reasoning
Alzheimer’s disease causes difficulty concentrating and thinking, especially about abstract concepts like numbers. It may be challenging to manage finances, balance checkbooks, and keep track of bills and pay them on time. These difficulties may progress to inability to recognize and deal with numbers.
Making judgments and decisions
Responding effectively to everyday problems, such as food burning on the stove or unexpected driving situations, becomes increasingly challenging.
Planning and performing familiar tasks
Once-routine activities that require sequential steps, such as planning and cooking a meal or playing a favorite game, become a struggle as the disease progresses. Eventually, people with advanced Alzheimer’s may forget how to perform basic tasks such as dressing and bathing.
Changes in personality and behavior
Brain changes that occur in Alzheimer’s disease can affect the way you act and how you feel. People with Alzheimer’s may experience:
Distrust in others
Irritability and aggressiveness
Changes in sleeping habits
Loss of inhibitions
Delusions, such as believing something has been stolen
Memory loss, impaired judgment and other cognitive changes caused by Alzheimer’s can complicate treatment for other health conditions. A person with Alzheimer’s disease may not be able to:
Communicate that he or she is experiencing pain — for example, from a dental problem
Report symptoms of another illness
Follow a prescribed treatment plan
Notice or describe medication side effects
As Alzheimer’s disease progresses to later stages, brain changes begin to affect physical functions, such as swallowing, balance, and bowel and bladder control. These effects can increase vulnerability to additional health problems such as:
Pneumonia and other infections. Difficulty swallowing may cause people with Alzheimer’s to inhale (aspirate) food or liquid into their airways and lungs, which can lead to pneumonia. Inability to control emptying of the bladder (urinary incontinence) may require placement of a tube to drain and collect urine (urinary catheter). Having a catheter increases your risk of urinary tract infections, which can lead to more-serious, life-threatening infections.
Injuries from falls. People with Alzheimer’s become increasingly vulnerable to falling. Falls can lead to fractures. In addition, falls are a common cause of serious head injuries
Current Alzheimer’s medications can help for a time with memory symptoms and other cognitive changes.
reating a safe and supportive environment
Adapting the living situation to the needs of a person with Alzheimer’s is an important part of any treatment plan. You can take these steps to support a person’s sense of well-being and continued ability to function:
Remove excess furniture, clutter and throw rugs.
Install sturdy handrails on stairways and in bathrooms.
Ensure that shoes and slippers are comfortable and provide good traction.
Reduce the number of mirrors. People with Alzheimer’s may find images in mirrors confusing or frightening.
Regular exercise is an important part of everybody’s wellness plan — and those with Alzheimer’s are no exception.
People with Alzheimer’s may forget to eat, lose interest in preparing meals or not eat a healthy combination of foods. They may also forget to drink enough, leading to dehydration and constipation.
High-calorie, healthy shakes and smoothies. You can supplement milkshakes with protein powders (available at grocery stores, drugstores and discount retailers) or use your blender to make smoothies featuring your favorite ingredients.
Water, juice and other healthy beverages. Try to ensure that a person with Alzheimer’s drinks at least several full glasses of liquids every day. Avoid beverages with caffeine, which can increase restlessness, interfere with sleep and trigger frequent need to urinate.
Right now, there’s no proven way to prevent Alzheimer’s disease. Research into prevention strategies is ongoing. The strongest evidence so far suggests that you may be able to lower your risk of Alzheimer’s disease by reducing your risk of heart disease. Many of the same factors that increase your risk of heart disease can also increase your risk of Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia. Important factors that may be involved include high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, excess weight and diabetes.