Mysterious and frustrating, Alzheimer’s afflicts nearly four million Americans, about 10 percent of the population over age 65, and over 45 percent of those over age of 85. (In rare instances, Alzheimer’s strikes earlier than 65).
No one knows what causes Alzheimer’s disease. Some research hints that a virus or infectious agent is the culprit. Others point to brain chemical deficits, a genetic predisposition and/or environmental toxins. Nevertheless, the end result is the death of brain cells that control intellect (the way your brain receives and processes information).
Signs and Symptoms
Alzheimer’s Disease has a gradual onset. The signs and symptoms may progress in stages. How quickly they occur varies from person to person. The disease may, however, eventually leave its victims totally unable to care for themselves.
- Disorientation of time and place.
- Increasing inability to do routine tasks.
- Impairment in judgement.
- Lessening of initiative.
- Lack of spontaneity.
- Depression and fear.
- Increasing forgetfulness.
- Increasing disorientation.
- Restlessness and agitation, especially at night.
- Repetitive actions.
- Muscle twitching and/or convulsions may develop.
- Inability to recognize either themselves or other people.
- Speech impairment (may not be able to speak at all).
- Develop need to put everything into their mouths.
- Develop need to touch everything in sight.
- Become emaciated.
- Complete loss of control of all body functions.
[Note: The stages very often overlap.]
Treatment and Care
If someone you care about shows signs of Alzheimer’s disease, see that they get medical attention to confirm (or rule out) the diagnosis. Not everything that looks like Alzheimer’s is Alzheimer’s. There are many diseases or other problems that can cause dementia (severe problems with memory and thinking). These include:
- Brain tumors.
- Blood clots in the brain.
- Severe vitamin B12 deficiency.
- Some medicine side effects.
(Unlike Alzheimer’s, these problems can be treated).
There is no known cure for Alzheimer’s Disease. Because no specific treatment or medicine exists to slow the steady deterioration that typifies Alzheimer’s, good planning or medical and social management are necessary to help both the victim and care-givers cope with the symptoms and maintain the quality of life for as long as possible. It’s especially helpful to put structure in the life of someone who’s in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. Some suggestions include:
- Maintain daily routines.
- Post reminders on an oversized and prominently displayed calendar.
- Make “to do” lists of daily tasks for the person with Alzheimer’s to complete, and ask him or her to check them off as they’re completed.
- Put things in their proper places after use, to help the person with Alzheimer’s find things when he or she needs them.
- Post safety reminders (like “turn off the stove”) at appropriate places throughout the house.
- Also, see that the person with Alzheimer’s eats well-balanced meals, goes for walks with family members, and otherwise continues to be as active as possible.
Most medication therapies currently being used are experimental. One prescription medication, tacrine, (Cognex), that is no longer experimental, may help with memory in some persons with the early stage of Alzheimer’s Disease. Sometimes medications to treat depression, paranoia and agitation, etc. can minimize symptoms, but they will not necessarily improve memory.
At late stages, providing a safe environment is of utmost importance. Alzheimer’s victims should wear identification bracelets or necklaces so they can be identified should they be separated from their home environment. Seeking adult foster care or nursing home care for those who require supervision or medical management may be necessary.
Care-givers of Alzheimer’s victims should also be given “care.” They must deal with a number of financial, social, physical and emotional issues. Care for care-givers can be provided by professionals of home care, day care, respite care, service programs and self-help groups.