Symptoms, Signs & Effects of Alzheimer’s

Understanding Alzheimer's

Learn more about Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia – causing between 50 and 80% of all cases of dementia – that causes problems with the way people think, their memory, and can impact the ways in which they behave. Symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease tend to begin slowly and progressively worsen over time until they are severe enough to grossly impact activities of daily living, such as bathing and eating. While the greatest risk factor for the development of Alzheimer’s disease is aging, Alzheimer’s disease is not a normal part of aging. In fact, Alzheimer’s disease is not simply a disease of old age; up to 5% of people who develop Alzheimer’s (called early-onset Alzheimer’s disease) which often becomes symptomatic in people in their 40s or 50s.

Two abnormal structures in the brain are believed to play a role in the destruction of nerve cells in the brain leading to Alzheimer’s disease. Plaques are deposits of a protein fragment called beta-amyloid that build up in the areas between neurons. Tangles are twisted fibers of a protein called tau that accumulate inside cells. While most people do develop both plaques and tangles as their brain ages; individuals who have Alzheimer’s disease develop far more than others in a predictable pattern, starting in areas vital to memory before spreading to other areas in the brain. Most experts in the field believe that these plaques and tangles have a serious role in disrupting communication in neurons and the processes by which these cells survive. The destruction and death of neurons that leads to the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease such as memory loss, and changes in behaviors and personality.

Currently, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, but there are many various treatments available to reduce the symptoms of the disease. While current treatments cannot stop the progression of the disease, they are able to slow down the worsening symptoms and improve the quality of life for people who have Alzheimer’s disease, as well as their caregivers. Research, however is ongoing, and advances in the ability to treat this disease are made every day.


Statistics of Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer’s disease accounts for between 50 and 80% of dementias, making it the most common form of dementia, which is a general term for a group of symptoms including memory loss and the decline of other intellectual abilities that are severe enough to interfere with daily life. Over 5 million people in the United States are living with Alzheimer’s disease while an estimated 35.6 million are living with the disease worldwide. This number is expected to double by 2030 and more than triple by 2050. One in every three seniors dies from Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.

Co-Occurring Disorders

Alzheimer’s & co-occurring disorder

As most people who are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease have one or more medical disorders; the most common of these is cerebrovascular disease. In addition, people suffering from Alzheimer’s may also experience:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Regression
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Self-harm
  • Intermittent explosive disorder
  • Psychosis


Causes of Alzheimer’s

Researchers have not yet pinpointed one single factor responsible for the development of Alzheimer’s disease, rather they believe it to be interplaying factors working together. Some of the most common causes for Alzheimer’s disease include:

Genetic: Research into Alzheimer’s disease has shown that men and women who have a first-degree relative, such as a parent or sibling, who has Alzheimer’s disease are more likely to develop it themselves. The genetic risk for Alzheimer’s increases if more than one relative has the illness. It’s important to remember that not everyone who has a genetic risk for the disease will go on to develop it.

Biological: While Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of aging, the greatest risk factor for developing the disease is increasing age. After age 65, the risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease doubles every five years. After age 85, the risk for developing the disorder is close to 50%. Women, likely due to living longer than men, are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease.

Environmental: People who keep their brains active by engaging in activities such as crossword puzzles and other mentally challenging activities and maintain a social life are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers are attempting to understand the link.

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s

The symptoms of Alzheimer’s may come on very slowly and may be challenging to identify in the beginning stages of the disease. Symptoms will vary from person to person based upon the disease progression and duration of illness. Common symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease include:

  • Challenges learning new information
  • Memory loss that disrupts daily life
  • Challenges in planning
  • Difficulties problem-solving
  • Challenges completing familiar tasks at work, home, or during social activities
  • Confusion about dates – especially time and place
  • Diminished short-term memory
  • Difficulties understanding visual images and special relationships
  • New problems communicating with verbal or written words
  • Withdrawing from social activities
  • Losing items or misplacing them in bizarre locations
  • Sudden inability to retrace steps
  • Decreased or poor judgment
  • Disorientation
  • Mood swings
  • Personality changes
  • Behavioral changes
  • Increasing confusion about time, place, and events
  • Unfounded suspicions about caregivers, family, friends, loved ones
  • Increasing loss of memory
  • Difficulty speaking
  • “Pocketing” food in the side of the mouth
  • Challenges swallowing
  • Decline in speaking ability
  • Poor obstacle navigation
  • Challenges walking


Effects of Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer’s disease has no cure, however, treatment can lessen the symptoms of the disorder and allow an individual more time with his or her loved ones. Long-term effects of Alzheimer’s impact every area of a person’s life and include:

  • Diminished ability to care for oneself
  • Wandering away from home
  • Increasing challenges with communicating
  • Difficulties swallowing and drinking
  • Malnutrition due to impaired swallowing
  • Dehydration due to poor liquid intake
  • Dependence upon others for bathing, dressing, and eating
  • Increased risk for falls
  • Broken bones
  • Loss of ability to interact with others
  • Bedsores
  • Muscle contractures
  • Violent behavior toward self and others
  • Failure of systems in the body
  • Increased susceptibility to infections
  • Respiratory infections including aspiration pneumonia
  • Decreased bowel and bladder control

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