Alzheimer’s disease is currently the most commonly recognized and diagnosed form of dementia. In fact, because Alzheimer’s disease is so common, people often confuse other forms of dementia with Alzheimer’s disease, using the term “Alzheimer’s” in the broadest sense to actually mean any dementia, memory loss, or change in cognitive function that interferes with daily living. Today, 60 – 80% of dementia cases are actually diagnosed as Alzheimer’s disease, but what, specifically is it?
Alzheimer’s disease is a specific form of dementia that changes a person’s brain and eventually manifests outwardly as a change in a person’s thinking, memory, and behavior. Typically speaking, the disease develops slowly – with the symptoms worsening slowly over time – often creating problems that interfere (to varying degrees) with the individual’s personal responsibilities and daily tasks.
It is no secret that our brains age and change along with the rest of our body over the years, but frequent expression of the following symptoms should raise a red flag and result in a conversation with the family doctor:
- Difficulty recalling recently learned facts or information (Note: This is the most commonly expressed early symptom.)
- Difficulty solving common problems or challenges or trouble handling familiar chores or tasks
- Difficulty making good or rational decisions
- Difficulty remembering the day, date, time, or place
- Difficulty remembering names or words
Brain or Physical Changes
Simply put, Alzheimer’s disease, if left to itself, will alter the entire brain. Why? Because Alzheimer’s disease causes nerve cell death that results in significant tissue loss in the brain over time. Additionally, the brain affected by Alzheimer’s disease will shrink significantly, and this change will affect all (or nearly all) of the brain’s functions.
Causes and/or Risk Factors
Scientists and researchers continue to make huge strides in their understanding of Alzheimer’s disease. Specifically, they are uncovering various risk factors that raise a person’s chances of being diagnosed with the disease. These causes and/or risk factors include (but are not limited to) the following:
- Age: One-third of adults ages 85 and older have the disease
- Heredity: Risks increase significantly if more than 1 family member has the disease
- Head Injury: Repeated head injury increases the likelihood of presenting with Alzheimer’s disease
- Heart Health: Scientific evidence continues to link heart health and brain health
- Habits: Dietary choices, social interactions, alcohol consumption, tobacco usage, and exercise regimens all contribute to raising or lowering the likelihood of an Alzheimer’s diagnosis
Diagnosis, Treatment, and Care
Alzheimer’s disease, as is the case with any form of dementia, is a difficult diagnosis. But, though nobody wants to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease (or watch a family member receive the diagnosis), it is paramount that a proper diagnosis be received as quickly as possible so that ensuing treatment and proper care can be promptly administered. Though the disease cannot be cured, it can certainly be slowed if treated efficiently and effectively. Your doctor can administer a thorough medical evaluation –including blood work, physical exam, and brain scans – to determine the presence of the disease.