Alzheimer’s Disease Signs and Symptoms

Are you concerned you or a loved one may be struggling with Alzheimer’s disease?  If you’ve noticed any of the below warning signs or symptoms, it may be time to reach out for professional help.

Understanding Alzheimer's Disease

Learn about Alzheimer’s disease

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, which is group of disorders that cause people to begin to slowly develop problems with their memory, thought patterns, and behaviors. People who are suffering from Alzheimer’s have symptoms that become so severe that it affects their ability to function on a daily basis. Additionally, these effects can cause problems in an individual’s relationships and on his or her work performance.

While there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, medication and management strategies may temporarily improve symptoms, which is why treatment should be sought as soon as possible. This way people with Alzheimer’s disease can maximize functioning and maintain independence for as long as possible. Additionally, early treatment will allow families and loved ones to make decisions for continuing care so that the individual with Alzheimer’s will have his or her needs and wishes known and respected even as the disease progresses.

Statistics

Alzheimer’s disease statistics

The Alzheimer’s Association states that Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 50%-80% of all dementia cases. Studies have shown that the likelihood that a person will experience the onset of Alzheimer’s doubles approximately every 5 years between the ages of 65 and 85. The results of these studies showed that while only 1%-2% of people who are 70 years old suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, nearly 40% of individuals who are 85 years old are struggling with the illness.

Furthermore, studies have shown that as the population ages, so does the frequency in which Alzheimer’s begins to present. Scientists have estimated that, unless new treatments are developed, the number of people who will suffer from Alzheimer’s in the United States will jump to around 13.8 million within the next few decades.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease

Most scientists believe that the cause of Alzheimer’s disease is the result of a combination of genetics, lifestyle, and environmental factors that affect the brain over time. Some examples of these factors can include:

Genetic: If you have a first-degree relative, such as a parent or sibling, who has the disease, your risk of developing Alzheimer’s is higher than those who do not. Rare mutations in three genes have been identified as indicators that an individual who inherits them will most likely develop Alzheimer’s disease. However, these mutations account for less than 5% of the total amount of cases of people who have the illness.

Physical: People who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease have experienced some type of damage to the nerve cells in their brain. This nerve cell damage can occur in several different areas of the brain, which leads people to react differently to the onset of the illness.

Environmental: Professionals in the field continue to study the effects that one’s environment might have on whether or not he or she will experience the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Evidence has been provided that suggests that some lifestyle factors have the potential to lead to the development of the disease, including a lack of exercise, smoking, maintaining a diet that is lacking vegetables and fruits, and having minimal social interactions.

Risk Factors:

  • Increased age (recognized as being the most predominant risk factor)
  • Family history of Alzheimer’s disease
  • Being a woman
  • Past head trauma
  • Coronary artery disease
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Having Down syndrome (it is believed that people who have Down syndrome will develop changes in the brain that lead to the onset of Alzheimer’s by the time they reach age 40)

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease

At first, increasing forgetfulness and mild confusion may be the only symptoms that you notice, but over time symptoms will increase and worsen. The signs of symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease will vary from person to person depending upon the stage of the disease they are in. Some examples of different symptoms can include:       

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Makes irrational accusations towards loved ones
  • Gets lost in familiar places
  • Repeats statements over and over again
  • Has difficulty following instructions
  • Forgets conversations, appointments, or events
  • Misplaces things
  • Loss of social skills
  • Requires assistance to perform tasks
  • Decreased ability to communicate properly
  • Inappropriate behavior
  • Social withdrawal
  • Wandering

Physical symptoms:

  • Muscle weakness
  • Weight loss
  • Tremors
  • Dizziness
  • Impaired motor functioning
  • Poor balance

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Frequent and significant memory loss
  • Extreme confusion
  • Inability to understand surroundings
  • Difficulties concentrating and thinking
  • Hallucinations
  • Disorientation
  • Impaired reasoning and judgment
  • Loss of object recognition

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Mood swings
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • Increased agitation
  • Irritability and aggressiveness
  • Changes in personality
  • Loss of initiative

Effects

Effects of Alzheimer’s disease

The effects that Alzheimer’s disease has on a person can be devastating, both for the individual and for his or her family. Since Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease, the effects will continue to get worse over time. Some examples of these effects can include:

  • Permanent memory loss
  • Being unable to recognize loved ones
  • Disorientation of place and time
  • Difficulties swallowing
  • Problems balancing
  • Bowel and bladder control problems
  • Increased vulnerability to health problems such as pneumonia and other infections
  • Language struggles
  • Social withdrawal / isolation
  • Extreme personality changes
  • No longer being able to perform tasks without assistance

Co-Occurring Disorders

Alzheimer’s disease and co-occurring disorders

There are a number of different mental disorders that can occur alongside Alzheimer’s disease. Examples of these disorders can include, but are not limited to:

  • Depressive disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Substance abuse disorders

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