Talkeetna: (907) 733-2273 ~ Willow: (907) 495-4100 ~ Wasilla: (907) 376-2273

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Alzheimer’s: A progressive, deadly disease

unfinished puzzle with the word alzheimer's printed on it

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive, degenerative disorder that attacks the brain’s nerve cells, or neurons, that produce neurotransmitter, acetylcholine. 40 million people are affected by Alzheimer’s disease worldwide. Every four seconds, a person is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. This disorder causes connections between the nerve cells to break and ultimately die, which results in memory loss, language skills and can cause behavioral changes.

The massive cell death and tissue loss throughout the brain, over time, makes the brain shrink dramatically affecting almost all its functions.

The brain burns about 20% of your total calorie intake and is the most powerful organ in our body, yet it weighs only three pounds. It has three main parts, the cerebrum, cerebellum, and the brain stem. Each plays a vital role. A healthy brain has about 100 billion neurons. These cells are the basic working unit of the brain. It is a specialized cell designed to transmit information to other nerve cells, muscle, or gland cells.

The progression of Alzheimer’s disease is slow and gradual and categorized in three stages — mild or early stage, moderate or middle stage, and severe or late stage. Since Alzheimer’s affect people in different ways, each individual experiences its symptoms differently.

Alzheimer’s disease worsens over time but its progression varies. A person with Alzheimer’s generally lives four to eight years after diagnosis but depending on other factors can live as long as 20 years.

The changes in the brain related to Alzheimer’s start years before any signs of the disease. This preclinical period can last for years or even decades. You and the people around you may not even notice the symptoms, but new imaging technologies can now identify deposits of a protein called amyloid beta, which is a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease.

Mild (Early Stage)

In this early stage of the disease, a person may function independently. He or she is still capable of doing their regular activities, such as driving, working, etc. Memory lapses, forgetting familiar words or location of everyday objects, conversations, recent events or appointments occur more frequently on this stage, despite their capabilities.

Family and friends tend to notice difficulties such as:

  • Problems recalling words or names
  • Trouble remembering new people
  • Difficulty performing social or work tasks.
  • inability to retain recently read material
  • Losing or misplacing a valuables
  • Increased trouble with planning or organizing

Moderate Alzheimer’s Disease (Middle Stage)

This stage is the longest stage which could last for many years. During this stage, the patient becomes more confused and forgetful and will begin to need more help with daily activities and self-care.

You may notice people who suffer from moderate stage Alzheimer’s disease tend to be more frustrated or angry. They may also act in unexpected ways, such as refusing to do daily hygiene. The extent of damage to the nerve cells in the brain make it difficult for patients to express thoughts and perform routine tasks.

Symptoms such as:

  • Forgetting personal history or events.
  • Moodiness or withdrawal, particularly in socially or mentally challenging situations.
  • Inability to recall their address, telephone number or personally relevant locations (high school or college).
  • Confusion about current date, time or location
  • Improperly clothing themselves for the weather or occasion.
  • Uncontrolled bladder and bowels.
  • Daytime sleep or night restlessness.
  • Wandering and becoming lost.
  • Personality and behavioral changes, including suspiciousness and delusions or compulsive, repetitive behavior like hand-wringing or tissue shredding.

Severe Alzheimer’s Disease (Late Stage)

In the final stage of Alzheimer’s disease, individuals suffering lose their ability to respond to their environment because their mental function continues to decline. Although their ability to speak is still there, it is limited to only words and phrases which makes communicating even more difficult. One may also notice personality changes have become more significant and a person will need extensive help with their daily activities.

At this stage, individuals may have:

  • Trouble with daily activities and personal care.
  • Lost awareness of their surroundings and daily interactions.
  • Reduced physical abilities (walking, sitting, eventually, swallowing).
  • Difficulty communicating.
  • Become vulnerable to infections, especially pneumonia.

Can you be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s before 65?

Answer: Yes.

People below the age of 65 who experience symptoms of Alzheimer’s are diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s. This rare condition strike five percent of the entire population in America. Doctors still do not know why Alzheimer’s starts at a young age for some individuals. However, studies show that people who develop the disease at a younger age have a family history of Alzheimer’s.

Treatment

Unfortunately, there is no cure to Alzheimer’s or method to stop or slow its progression. But there are ways and medications to help with symptoms.

Once diagnosed with the disease, a patient may always ask his or her doctor why the diagnosis is Alzheimer’s, where you or someone you love may be in the course of the disease, and what to expect in the future. It is essential to plan ahead so the person with Alzheimer’s can still be part of the planning. Get in touch with your health care provider for support or join a support group. Sunshine Community Health Center holds monthly  CAREGIVER SUPPORT GROUPS in both Talkeetna and Willow.

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