Alzheimer’s Disease is a degenerative neurological condition which affects thousands of people across the world – and the number of diagnosed and non-diagnosed cases grows every year.
Characteristic symptoms of the condition can include confusion and disorientation which increases with time, and might eventually progress to include moderate to severe memory loss and even signs of aggression.
The condition is often associated with older people, but early-onset Alzheimer’s can also present and is very often missed even by medical professionals.
Diagnosis is vital, and adaptations can (and should) be made for a better quality of life if you think you might be at risk or if you have already been diagnosed.
Here’s the essential information you need to know about Alzheimer’s disease, including the signs and symptoms, early warning signs, the diagnosis and treatment of the condition and some essential resources for if you spot signs of the condition in a loved one or yourself.
Alzheimer’s or Dementia – What’s the Difference?
Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are often mentioned in the same sentence, and it’s true that they often occur together, but it’s also true that they aren’t quite the same thing. It’s a common misconception to think that the two are one in the same.
Instead, there are many different types of dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease is only one of them. The same way that there today exists an Autism spectrum for diagnosing various manifestations of the condition, Alzheimer’s is considered part of a larger spectrum of dementia-like conditions.
This has presented us with far more information to work off of when it comes to seeing the early signs of both, and it stands to make diagnosis and treatment much easier.
The Prevalence of Alzheimer’s
Current statistics estimate that there are approximately 44 million people worldwide who are living with Alzheimer’s disease or a related version of dementia – and the number is said to be much higher than this due to the fact that only approximately 25% of Alzheimer’s cases are known to be diagnosed in time.
Further statistics say that as much as a third of people over 85 might be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or show signs of onset.
The increasing prevalence of Alzheimer’s should outline the importance of closely monitoring health, and knowing how to spot the early signs and symptoms of the condition’s onset could greatly increase someone’s quality of life.
What Causes Alzheimer’s
One of the first and most important things to know about Alzheimer’s disease is that it’s generally agreed by professionals – at least for now – that there isn’t one definite cause for the condition.
What we do know about the condition is that there are several factors which influence one’s prevalence to develop it, including lifestyle, diet, exposure to toxins and genetics.
If you have a history of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia in your family, even if it was never officially diagnosed, you should make an appointment with a professional and look into risk factors if you want to keep your health in good condition.
What Alzheimer’s Does
Alzheimer’s disease is known to cause progressive degeneration of brain cells, and this in turn will start to affect brain functions such as memory and emotion. The longer the disease is left to progress without the proper treatment or diagnosis, the worse the condition will often get – and the faster it can progress.
If you suspect that you or a loved one might show the first signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, an appointment with a professional should be an immediate priority.
Testing for Alzheimer’s
The best way to assess the potential onset of Alzheimer’s disease is to make an appointment with a medical professional who can conduct the proper tests.
During an appointment, remember to mention your full medical history – any diseases that are already known or might be suspected, any medication that you might be taking or have been taking for some time, any symptoms you might have noticed and as much detail as possible surrounding them (like when they started).
From there, the doctor will conduct tests to assess vital factors like eye responsiveness, mental clarity and skin sensation. Other important factors are also tested, such as whether or not the person can recall things like the time and date.
Sometimes a brain imaging test (such as an MRI) will also be scheduled along with a few other tests in order to establish whether onset of the condition is the cause of the symptoms. If not, more tests will be scheduled from there.
Never put off being tested for a condition as crucial as Alzheimer’s disease, especially if you happen to have a family history of related conditions (and even if they weren’t diagnosed during their lifetime).
Early-Onset versus Late
Alzheimer’s disease is a condition that’s generally associated with the elderly, but early-onset Alzheimer’s disease can also take place – and might occur as early as the twenties or thirties in some, though is usually considered to be anything under the age of 65.
Early-onset Alzheimer’s is often misdiagnosed, and almost always seen where there is a family history: Again, it’s vital to make an appointment with your medical professional if you suspect that someone in your family might have had Alzheimer’s or any dementia-related conditions.
Warning Signs in Family History
When and where you’re able to, take a closer look at your family history before you make your first doctor’s appointment to discuss the condition.
- Ask surviving family members if they have noticed the signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease in any other family members, and ask if it was ever officially diagnosed.
- Look into genealogical records that can tell you a lot about the life, death and health of deceased family members and their medical history.
- Consider the fact that not all cases of dementia and Alzheimer’s are officially diagnosed, and that the family member might have just “seemed odd” to the rest of the family.
- Have genetic testing done to establish your own personal risk factors for developing the condition. At the same time, you can learn a lot about your overall health in the process and learn how to live a healthier, better life according to your individual risk factors.
Early Signs & Symptoms
Alzheimer’s disease is a condition that’s best caught early: Left without diagnosis, the condition can progress a lot faster.
Some of the early signs and symptoms of developing Alzheimer’s disease often includes memory loss and confusion, disorientation and related other symptoms such as forgetting the names of objects often, forgetting where they put something, and intense difficulty making decisions – all of which is likely to increase with the progression of the disease.
Sometimes the confusion extends to things like forgetting where they are, forgetting the time or entirely forgetting the setting – and often times it can also manifest with episodes of aggression, rudeness or seeming ignorance of social convention.
It’s not unusual for someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s to say or do things that seem inappropriate in the moment: This is often the first sign that someone is acting differently, and should warrant a closer look at the other potential symptoms.
Helping with Alzheimer’s
Other than official treatment for the condition, there are a lot of things that can be done to make the lives of people living with Alzheimer’s disease more comfortable and improve their general quality of life when combined with the right types of medication.
Reassurance is one of the most important things when working with someone who has Alzheimer’s or dementia. It’s normal for them to feel that something is wrong, but they can’t always tell what – and this only increases confusion and fear associated with the condition. Alleviate anxiety by reassuring them whenever they’re in need of it.
Mentally stimulating activities such as crafts, card games and crosswords are some of the best ways in which you can keep people living with Alzheimer’s or dementia active – and there are many studies out there that prove this can be useful to slowing down the progression of the condition.
Simplify things because complexity and flexibility are things that can make living with Alzheimer’s only more confusing and harder to deal with. When providing instructions, stick to one at a time – and be sure to monitor this throughout.
Note any changes in symptoms, thoughts or actions – and encourage them to talk about what they are feeling and thinking. Always report any changes such as these to a medical professional in order to find out if any adjustments should be made.
Coping with Carers
It’s true that the majority of people don’t know how to live with someone who has Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, and this can often become harder and more impractical as the disease progresses.
Here, it becomes necessary to find a qualified carer with the necessary knowledge of dealing with the condition: And it’s vital to make sure that the carer is as qualified as they claim, and registered with the necessary authorities.
Never assume that a carer is doing their job properly; Make sure, and take any reports of potential mistreatment from an Alzheimer’s patient seriously.
Resources for Alzheimer’s Disease
Want to find out more? Here are some of the top resources and helplines for Alzheimer’s disease.
- The National Institute on Aging: Alzheimer’s Fact Sheet
- The Alzheimer’s Association
- NHS: Alzheimer’s Disease
About the Author:
After earning her Master’s in Nutritional Science from Cornell University, Vanna Darrow joined the content research team at HealthyMe123. She is excited to share her knowledge of nutrition, health, and fitness in order to encourage a healthier lifestyle for everyone.