All About Alzheimer’s Disease

But is it Alzheimer's? All About Alzheimer's Disease
But is it Alzheimer’s? All About Alzheimer’s Disease

All About Alzheimer’s Disease – What is Alzheimer’s?

Alzheimer’s disease is a loss of thinking ability. We each need to think to live life. Paying attention to things, especially important things, in necessary. We need to be able to learn new things, like phone numbers and driving directions, and to remember those things when we need to. Prioritizing which tasks to do first and which ones can wait until later is an important mental activity. Also, doing tasks requires thinking, like making a sandwich, using a phone, and finding a web page. For our social circle, we need to keep up, recognize people, remember names, and understand social situations. All of these areas are a part of thinking. Alzheimer’s is a loss of the ability to do some or all of these. But, not all loss of thinking ability is Alzheimer’s. There are other causes.

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What Are the First and Earliest Signs and Symptoms, Warning Signs and Symptoms, of Alzheimer’s?

This question, what are the first and earliest signs or symptoms of Alzheimer’s, is tricky. Here’s the problem. Everyone, as they get older, has minor quirks in thinking show up. Most of the time these never become Alzheimer’s or any other medical condition. So how do you tell if simple forgetfulness in recalling someone’s name is a “memory problem”? You can’t. That’s because an important part of what is and is not Alzheimer’s is time. Does this minor thinking glitch change or not, get worse or not, over time? And here’s the further dilemma. If you’re trying to keep track of your thinking ability as time goes by but your thinking ability is getting worse, you won’t be able to remember back correctly.

Solving the “First Sign of Alzheimer’s” Problem

There are at least a couple of ways to solve this situation of seeing the first early signs of Alzheimer’s. One way needs a close friend or relative you trust. If you don’t have such a trusted person, or you just want to be private about it, get a little book to use as a diary. Whether you tell a person or make a note in your diary, once a week mark the way you feel your thinking is less good, along with the date. Every 2 or 3 months note how you’re doing. In less than a year your trusted person or your diary will give you a good idea if things are getting worse or just staying about the same.

An Important “First Sign” Fork in the Alzheimer’s Road

One can have things go wrong, having a problem with losing some thinking ability, but continue to chug along with life. The bills get paid, the medicines are taken, you call your daughter once a day. This is not Alzheimer’s. It might be “pre-Alzheimer’s”, but it’s not Alzheimer’s. To tell the difference you need to wait and see, track changes over time. If a few years go by and nothing’s different, it probably ain’t Alzheimer’s. If it’s worse than this, if the person really can’t live independently anymore, that’s Alzheimer’s. The individual doesn’t get the bills paid, mixes up the medicines, keeps putting the milk in the cabinet and the cereal in the refrigerator, and can’t follow the recipe for the family’s favorite stew. Then think of Alzheimer’s.

Are the First Signs Different in Women and Men?

The shortest and best answer to this question is no, there are no differences. There’s a lot of work on this question by experts in Alzheimer’s. Different groups find different things, and so the findings are not consistent. The thinking is that men might keep the ability to name things and recall lists better than women. That women have memory impairment sooner than men. It might be that depressed men are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s than depressed women. It does seem that once the dementia of Alzheimer’s is there, it seems to worsen more quickly in women. Finally, the difference of which gender does what, and when, has not been helpful in diagnosing or treating Alzheimer’s. For now, the answer that there are no differences is the most useful.

An Important Point Before We Get to the Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer’s?

Alzheimer’s disease affects thinking. Thinking is a central activity of life. The result is that all kinds of things can go wrong. We’ll list some of them, but actually, that’s not the most important point. The most important point is this: It starts very mild and it worsens very slowly over a long time, years and years. So if your situation came on suddenly or gets worse quickly, it’s not Alzheimer’s. Strokes happen quickly. Brain injury with a brain bleed worsens quickly or over hours or days. Alzheimer’s if very slow. Everyone has time to watch what’s happening and make decisions.

The Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer’s?

Memory problems are the most obvious and irritating. Look up and memorized the phone number 4 times and still can’t remember it, so wrote it down and now can’t find the piece of paper. Making plans and completing tasks are other areas of loss, like can’t plan a small social gathering or gets confused playing a familiar card game. Others are a poor ability to get ideas across in a conversation, misjudging distances, or walking somewhere and not being able to find the way back. Poor judgment creeps in, like bad financial choices or lessened personal hygiene (tooth brushing, bathing, hair combing). As life becomes a bit generally confusing, there’s a likelihood of stopping social activities. It all just gets to be too much. There also might be changes in personality, with moodiness and/or irritability.

What causes Alzheimer’s? – All About Alzheimer’s Disease

Nobody knows, really. Here’s a link to the National Institute on Aging on What Causes Alzheimer’s Disease? Drug companies thought they knew. They have spent about $100B dollars ($100,000,000,000) over the past 20 years on trying to find a new good treatment and have failed completely. Age is part of the cause. The older one gets the more likely that Alzheimer’s will happen. There’s a genetic, family inheritance risk gene, but it’s not a sure thing. It does seem that a healthy lifestyle lessens the risk. Like a good diet, regular exercise, a good night’s sleep on most nights, staying socially active, and doing hard things that need difficult thinking that make your brain work harder. One’s early life experiences play a role. More education lessens your risk. Poor medical health increases risk, like obesity, diabetes, heart disease, untreated high blood pressure, and stroke.

Alzheimer’s Is Common

Though the person with Alzheimer’s might feel it’s a lonely path to follow, like no one else is going through it, you are not alone. Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of memory loss and poor thinking severe enough to make it difficult to live independently through each day. Most of the time people develop it randomly and no one knows why.

Just How Common is Alzheimer’s?

During the year that people are age 65 there is about a 1% chance of getting Alzheimer’s.  That means for every 100 people age 65, one of them will probably newly develop it. During the year that people are age 85 the percentage chance has increased to about 6%, 6 people out of every 100 will come down with it as a new medical condition.

More Alzheimer’s Statistics

While that’s the number that show up as a new diagnosis in the year one is age 65, the number of people that have it now in a room full of people age 65 is higher, about 8% So if you thumb through the photos in your high school or college yearbook (if you’re one of those rare individuals that still has the book), when everyone in your class is age 65 about 8 classmates out of every 100 will have Alzheimer’s. When everyone is age 80, the number jumps to about 40%, that is, for every 100 photos in that yearbook, about 40 of those classmates will have it.

So, Where’s The Alzheimer’s Cure?

Ah, yes, there’s the problem. “There’s the rub”, as they say. We don’t yet have a cure. Billions of dollars and euros and British pounds are spent each year looking for a cure, or even just a treatment that’s a lot better than what we have. But we don’t have one yet. Dr. Daniel Skovronsky, the President of Lilly Research Labs, has said that the complexity of Alzheimer’s disease poses one of the most difficult medical challenges of our time.

What’s Coming to Treat Alzheimer’s?

The media coverage on Alzheimer’s treatments is far too exaggerated. Medicines are described and promised and it’s just not true. Given what has been learned during the past 20 years, it’s most likely that no one drug now in development is going to work by itself. The most probable eventual better treatment will likely be a combination of two or three or more of these medicines.

Two or Three Medicines to Treat Alzheimer’s?

Here’s why. The cause of Alzheimer’s seems to be several broken parts in the brain’s workings, not just one. There are proteins likely involved with names like beta-amyloid, beta-secretase, and tau. There might be receptors involved, those little catcher’s mitts for signal molecules, with names like serotonin 2A and serotonin-6. It seems unlikely that one medicine can fix enough of the parts to fix Alzheimer’s. Maybe a medicine will be found that could do it all, successfully treat Alzheimer’s with just one medicine. Remarkable things can happen in medicine. But it seems far more likely that 2 or 3 medicines will be combined to fix enough parts of the works to make a big difference. There’s more. The medicines will likely work in “pre-Alzheimer’s” or very early Alzheimer’s, but not once the Alzheimer’s is advanced. The neuron damage in bad Alzheimer’s probably cannot be fixed.

For Alzheimer’s, Back to an Ounce of Prevention…

So really bad Alzheimer’s cannot be successfully treated? Why? Because once Alzheimer’s has progressed to even moderate severity, much less worse than moderate, too many nerve cells are dead. Once too many nerve cells are dead, once too many brain circuits and nerve pathways are interrupted, there is no way with today’s science and methods to regrow parts of the brain. So, just what are we supposed to do? Sit and wait for it to get us? Nope. Pursuing all activities that avert or delay the onset of Alzheimer’s is the key. We mentioned a few above, and see our page on Treating Alzheimer’s. Such prevention activities are worth their weight in gold, worth their weight in platinum, worth every bit of energy you can put into them.

For Now, Successful Coping is the Final Key to End-Stage Alzheimer’s

People with early to mild to moderate Alzheimer’s can see a path laid out in front of them. As time goes by and as abilities decline there are choices to make. As with all life’s situations, people can make good choices or poor choices. Most people do make good choices and set down one final life’s success by coping well and living the end of life to its fullest. Sometimes family and friends are the first to notice the changes and are willing to be supportive. The final choice is, do I want to go out with an ordinary death or do I want to die with success to the end. If you are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s (or any dementia), connect with family, with friends, and stay connected as best you can for as long as you can.

Alzheimer’s Caregivers Help

As a person with Alzheimer’s moves through time, at some point along the way those who know and love them, who care about them, step up and begin helping them more and more. These remarkably kind and caring individuals are called “caregivers” in the medical care system. Outside the of medical care terms there must be better words for them. Maybe the earth’s most wonderful people? The term “caregiver” just means that they give care to the person with Alzheimer’s. However, over time and in a different way, they themselves need help and support. The gradually increasing behavioral confusion of Alzheimer’s and the resulting increasing care needed weigh heavily on these caregivers. If you know someone caring for a person with Alzheimer’s, lend them a hand now and then. A bit of a break. They will need it.

Success in Treating/Curing Alzheimer’s Will Come

Medical science will conquer Alzheimer’s. Brain scientists are a clever bunch. The solutions to the Alzheimer’s puzzle will come. It’s a difficult puzzle to understand and solve but we will get there. When? “When?” is indeed the big question. Major pharmaceutical companies and rich and powerful governments have spent decades and hundreds of billions of dollars, euros, and British pounds pushing for a cure. Time after time they hit a dead end. But they all have learned along the way. The younger you are now the greater your chance of never having Alzheimer’s or having your Mild Cognitive Impairment treated and cured.

Helpful links:

Alzheimer’s Association

Alzheimer’s Foundation of America

National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Aging

NIH/HIA on Alzheimer’s

Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Alzheimer’s Disease

Mayo Clinic on Alzheimer’s Disease

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