What is Alzheimer's Disease and What Does It Mean?

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What is Alzheimer’s?

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s is a degenerative brain disease caused by complex brain changes following cell damage. It leads to dementia symptoms that gradually worsen over time. The most common early symptom of Alzheimer’s is trouble remembering new information because the disease typically impacts the part of the brain associated with learning first.
 

There are different stages of Alzheimer’s that the disease can progress to – Early (mild), Middle (moderate), and Late (severe). As Alzheimer’s advances, symptoms can get more severe and can include disorientation, confusion, and behavioral changes. At its latest stage, it can be difficult for a person suffering from Alzheimer’s to speak, walk, or even swallow. There is no known cure or prevention for Alzheimer’s Disease currently. 

The stages of Alzheimer's

In the Early-stage, a person may still function independently. He or she may still drive, work, and be a part of social activities. However, the individual may feel as though they’re having little memory lapses.
 
Middle-stage Alzheimer’s is typically the longest stage and can last for many years. The dementia symptoms are more pronounced during this time – the person may confuse words, get frustrated or angry, and act in unexpected ways, such as refusing to bathe. Damage to nerve cells in the brain can also make it difficult for the person to express thoughts and perform routine tasks without assistance. During the middle-stage, the person can still participate in daily activities with assistance.
 
Late-stage Alzheimer’s has severe dementia symptoms. Individuals lose their ability to respond to their environment, carry on a conversation, and control movement. Communicating pain becomes difficult and significant personality changes may occur as memory and cognitive skills. 

It can be challenging to care for someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Here are some tips that you can use as a professional caregiver or as a family caregiver to deal with someone with dementia, especially on days when they may become irritated or angry:
 
Tips for Caring for Someone with Dementia

- Realize your challenge. There will be good days and bad days.
Be patient. Tolerate compassionately any delays or provocation.
- Keep things simple. Ask or say one thing at a time, and make sure questions can be answered by a yes or no.
Be sensitive. Don’t talk about the person as if they were not there.
Develop a daily routine.
Reassure the person that he/she is safe and you are there to help. Listen attentively and empathize.
Focus on his/her feelings rather than words. Offer reassurance and support.
Don’t argue or try to reason with the person. Do not contradict.
Try not to show any frustration or anger. If you need to and are able to, take a break if you feel frustrated.
Minimize noise. Noise can disturb or confuse.
Use humor when you can.
Give people who pace a lot a safe place to walk. Provide comfortable, sturdy shoes. Give them light snacks to eat as they walk, so they don’t lose too much weight, and make sure they have enough to drink.
-  Distract the person.
Use non-verbal cues such as gestures, touch, and facial expressions.
Ask for help completing activities and allow them to maintain a sense of independence. 

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As we progress in age, it’s also important to look out for signs of Alzheimer’s or dementia in your loved ones or even in yourself. The biggest risk factor to Alzheimer’s is age. It’s important to recognize the difference between changes within the brain due to dementia or Alzheimer’s versus the aging brain.
 
Here are 10 early signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s to look out for yourself or your loved ones, from the Alzheimer’s Association. If you notice any of them, be sure to consult your doctor.
 
Memory loss that disrupts daily life: One of the most common signs of Alzheimer’s disease, especially in the early stage, is forgetting recently learned information. Others include forgetting important dates or events, asking for the same questions over and over, and increasingly needing to rely on memory aids (e.g., reminder notes or electronic devices) or family members for things they used to handle on their own.
What's a typical age-related change?
Sometimes forgetting names or appointments but remembering them later.
 
Challenges in planning or solving problems: Some people living with dementia may experience changes in their ability to develop and follow a plan or work with numbers. They may have trouble following a familiar recipe or keeping track of monthly bills. They may have difficulty concentrating and take much longer to do things than they did before.
What's a typical age-related change?
Making occasional errors when managing finances or household bills.
 
Difficulty Completing familiar tasks: People with Alzheimer's often find it hard to complete daily tasks. Sometimes they may have trouble driving to a familiar location, organizing a grocery list or remembering the rules of a favorite game.
What's a typical age-related change?
Occasionally needing help to use microwave settings or to record a TV show.
 
 
Confusion with time or place: People living with Alzheimer's can lose track of dates, seasons and the passage of time. They may have trouble understanding something if it is not happening immediately. Sometimes they may forget where they are or how they got there.
What's a typical age-related change?
Getting confused about the day of the week but figuring it out later.
 
Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships: For some people, having vision problems is a sign of Alzheimer's. This may lead to difficulty with balance or trouble reading. They may also have problems judging distance and determining color or contrast, causing issues with driving.
What's a typical age-related change?
Vision changes related to cataracts.
 
New problems with words in speaking or writing: People living with Alzheimer's may have trouble following or joining a conversation. They may stop in the middle of a conversation and have no idea how to continue or they may repeat themselves. They may struggle with vocabulary, have trouble naming a familiar object or use the wrong name (e.g., calling a "watch" a "hand-clock").
What's a typical age-related change?
Sometimes having trouble finding the right word.
 
Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps: A person living with Alzheimer's disease may put things in unusual places. They may lose things and be unable to go back over their steps to find them again. He or she may accuse others of stealing, especially as the disease progresses.
What's a typical age-related change?
Misplacing things from time to time and retracing steps to find them.
 
Decreased or poor judgment: Individuals may experience changes in judgment or decision-making. For example, they may use poor judgment when dealing with money or pay less attention to grooming or keeping themselves clean.
What's a typical age-related change?
Making a bad decision or mistake once in a while, like neglecting to change the oil in the car.
 
Withdrawal from work or social activities: A person living with Alzheimer’s disease may experience changes in the ability to hold or follow a conversation. As a result, he or she may withdraw from hobbies, social activities or other engagements. They may have trouble
keeping up with a favorite team or activity.
What's a typical age-related change?
Sometimes feeling uninterested in family or social obligations.

Changes in mood and personality: Individuals living with Alzheimer’s may experience mood and personality changes. They can become confused, suspicious, depressed, fearful or anxious. They may be easily upset at home, with friends or when out of their
comfort zone.
What's a typical age-related change?
Developing very specific ways of doing things and becoming irritable when a routine is disrupted.