In Alzheimer’s disease, some brain cells are destroyed, others damaged, and some of the brain’s tissues become abnormal.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of progressive dementia in the elderly. About 4% of people aged 65 to 75, about 5% of people aged 75 to 84, and as much as 50% over 85, have at least some Alzheimer’s symptoms. There are currently about four million Americans with Alzheimer’s disease.
Women are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than men. A family history of the disease increases one’s risk, though it’s not yet known by how much. On the good side, just because a relative has it doesn't mean that you will.
The key features of early Alzheimer’s disease are:
- Memory Loss - the inability to recall recent information or information that has always been known
- An inability to think in abstract terms
- Impaired language functions - the inability to understand conversation, recall a name of a familiar object or person or even understand what they are reading
- Visio-spatial loss - the inability to copy a basic shape that is shown to them.
Changes in conduct and personality are also common. The person may, for example,
- Become passive and less spontaneous
- Become physically restless or anxious, have insomnia, or wander away from home
- Display rude, coarse or aggressive behavior
- Have delusions featuring such themes as infidelity, theft, harm, or abandonment
- Say they hear or see things that aren’t audible or visible to others (hallucinations)
These changes generally don't happen overnight and they are intermittent. They can often be a brief episode that is laced with reality therefore giving other people pause to wonder whether the delusion could possibly be true.
There is still no cure for Alzheimer’s disease. However, especially in early stages, the progressive decline in intellectual functioning and physical abilities can be slowed with one or more medications.
Several of the drugs a physician may prescribe for a patient with Alzheimer’s are donepezil, rivastigmine, or tacrine. Other agents for those afflicted with Alzheimer’s are currently being tested in clinical trials.
Helping or even being around someone with Alzheimer's Disease can be heartbreaking. Here are a few tips in dealing with someone who has Alzheimer's
- Speak to the individual calmly, with distinct and simple words
- Ask one question at a time and allow him or her time to respond. More than one question can be confusing
- Maintain a regular routine that allows the person to remain physically and mentally active
- Break down complex tasks into single tasks
- Be realistic about the person’s abilities, recognizing that they will decline over time