What is Alzheimer's

What is Alzheimer’s: The Basics

For seniors and their families, even the mention of dementia can be terrifying. It’s important to understand what Alzheimer’s is before jumping to conclusions. Understanding the condition, and what can be done about it, empowers families to make better choices.

Dementia Defined:

Dementia is an umbrella term describing a chronic and progressive loss of mental functions. Mental functions affected include: memory, speech, emotional coping skills, and thinking / problem solving skills. There are many forms of dementia, what Alzheimer’s is? It’s the most common form of dementia[1] .

Symptoms :

The Symptoms may develop differently from person to person, but they are characterized as being persistent, and get worse over time. WebMD describes the most common early symptoms as[2]:

  • Minor/Major Memory Loss
  • Difficulties planning, solving problems, and performing daily tasks
  • Becoming disoriented easily
  • Vision difficulties: distinguishing distances, colors, or words on the page
  • Challenges with vocabulary: expressing oneself in speech or print becomes difficult, jumbled or confusing
  • Losing / Misplacing things in unusual places and/or accusing others of taking them
  • Mood changes: becoming upset easily, depression / anxiety, loss of motivation or social withdrawal

The list isn’t exhaustive, but it is enough to bring anyone to a specialist to be screened.

what is alzheimer's

What We Know: plaques and tangles:

The exact causes of Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are still being determined. Neurons – the biological cells of the brain – are slowly being damaged and destroyed over time, and the body is unable to reverse this on its own. The human brain is robust; the damage can build up for some time before symptoms begin to manifest themselves.

As the damage increases, so do too the symptoms become worse. Scientists use scans of the brain to view damage. They can see a building up of proteins in the areas of the brain being damaged. Between the cells appear what is called ‘Plaque’, a sticky buildup of these proteins. The inside of cells have ‘Tangles’, these are very small cotton-candy like buildups of different proteins.

Aging brains all have some of these two buildups, but it is clear that they become dramatically worse in Alzheimer’s disease patients. The challenge scientists face is understanding the cause of this buildup, how to prevent it, and how to reverse buildup that has already taken place.

Who’s at risk:

Alzheimer’s isn’t exclusively a disease of seniors. There are cases where symptoms appear in their 40’s and 50’s, but the overwhelming majority of people living with Alzheimer’s disease are over the age of 65[3]. The causes and contributing factors are not firmly understood. Some lifestyle factors may contribute to the onset, but it seems relatively clear that risk increases with age and particularly if there is a history of dementia in the family.[4] People of all backgrounds and genders are affected by the condition.

What to do?

As of now, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s. The progression of symptoms can be slowed, but they cannot be stopped. It’s crucial to stay positive, research into new treatments and medications is ongoing and is taking place around the world. The improvement of treatment options has been dramatic, and this is expected to continue.

The best chances of slowing progress come from identifying the condition early. Healthcare practitioners familiar with dementia can establish a baseline. This information can be used to track rate of decline and response to treatments. With proper care, healthy mental function can be extended for years.

Health agencies now have Alzheimer’s disease specialists on staff that can work directly with those afflicted and customize the best treatment plan.

Would someone you know benefit from an in home explanation of what Alzheimer’s is, and what treatments are available? Call or contact Caring People Inc. to schedule a free in-house consultation. Qualified homecare specialists will meet with you, assess your unique situation, and match your needs to the right services.

[1] http://www.alzheimer.ca/en/About-dementia/What-is-dementia

[2] http://www.webmd.com/alzheimers/guide/early-warning-signs-when-to-call-the-doctor-about-alzheimers

[3] http://www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_what_is_alzheimers.asp

[4] https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/site/scripts/documents_info.php?documentID=102