Alzheimer's & Dementia

Caring at home for an elderly loved one with onset or progression of Alzheimer’s or Dementia can be demanding. There may be government funded and other resources in your community that can help. If you qualify, services such as homemaking & personal care may be part of each care plan.

What is Alzheimer's?

Alzheimer's is a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior. Symptoms usually develop slowly and get worse over time, becoming severe enough to interfere with daily tasks.

Alzheimer's is the most common form of dementia, a general term for memory loss and other cognitive abilities serious enough to interfere with daily life. Alzheimer's disease accounts for 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases.

Alzheimer's is not a normal part of aging

The greatest known risk factor is increasing age, and the majority of people with Alzheimer's are 65 and older. But Alzheimer's is not just a disease of old age. Approximately 200,000 Americans under the age of 65 have younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease (also known as early-onset Alzheimer’s).

Alzheimer's worsens over time

Alzheimer's is a progressive disease, where dementia symptoms gradually worsen over a number of years. In its early stages, memory loss is mild, but with late-stage Alzheimer's, individuals lose the ability to carry on a conversation and respond to their environment. Alzheimer's is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. Those with Alzheimer's live an average of eight years after their symptoms become noticeable to others, but survival can range from four to 20 years, depending on age and other health conditions.

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What is Dementia?

Dementia is a general term for a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life. Memory loss is an example. Alzheimer's is the most common type of dementia.

Dementia is not a specific disease

It's an overall term that describes a wide range of symptoms associated with a decline in memory or other thinking skills severe enough to reduce a person's ability to perform everyday activities. Alzheimer's disease accounts for 60 to 80 percent of cases. Vascular dementia, which occurs after a stroke, is the second most common dementia type. But there are many other conditions that can cause symptoms of dementia, including some that are reversible, such as thyroid problems and vitamin deficiencies.

Dementia is often incorrectly referred to as "senility" or "senile dementia," which reflects the formerly widespread but incorrect belief that serious mental decline is a normal part of aging.

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Memory Loss and Other Symptoms of Dementia

While symptoms of dementia can vary greatly, at least two of the following core mental functions must be significantly impaired to be considered dementia:

People with dementia may have problems with short-term memory, keeping track of a purse or wallet, paying bills, planning and preparing meals, remembering appointments or traveling out of the neighborhood.

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Diagnosis

Alzheimer's is diagnosed through a complete medical assessment. If you or a loved one have concerns about memory loss or other symptoms of Alzheimer's or dementia, it is important to be evaluated by a physician.

There is no single test that shows a person has Alzheimer's

While physicians can almost always determine if a person has dementia, it may be difficult to determine the exact cause. Diagnosing Alzheimer's requires careful medical evaluation, including:

People with memory loss or other possible warning signs of Alzheimer's may find it hard to recognize they have a problem and may resist following up on their symptoms. Signs of dementia may be more obvious to family members or friends.

Having trouble with memory does not mean you have Alzheimer's. Many health issues can cause problems with memory and thinking. When dementia-like symptoms are caused by treatable conditions — such as depression, drug interactions, thyroid problems, excess use of alcohol or certain vitamin deficiencies — they may be reversed.

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10 Early Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer's

1. Memory Loss That Disrupts Daily Life

One of the most common signs of Alzheimer's is memory loss, especially forgetting recently learned information. Others include forgetting important dates or events; asking for the same information over and over; increasingly needing to rely on memory aids (e.g., reminder notes or electronic devices) or family members for things they used to handle on their own.

Q. What's a typical age-related change?

A. Sometimes forgetting names or appointments, but remembering them later.

2. Challenges in Planning or Solving Problems

Some people may experience changes in their ability to develop and follow a plan or work with numbers. They may have trouble following a familiar recipe or keeping track of monthly bills. They may have difficulty concentrating and take much longer to do things than they did before.

Q. What's a typical age-related change?

A. Making occasional errors when balancing a checkbook.

3. Difficulty Completing Familiar Tasks at Home, at Work or at Leisure

People with Alzheimer's often find it hard to complete daily tasks. Sometimes, people may have trouble driving to a familiar location, managing a budget at work or remembering the rules of a favorite game.

Q. What's a typical age-related change?

A. Occasionally needing help to use the settings on a microwave or to record a television show.

4. Confusion With Time or Place

People with Alzheimer's can lose track of dates, seasons and the passage of time. They may have trouble understanding something if it is not happening immediately. Sometimes they may forget where they are or how they got there.

Q. What's a typical age-related change?

A. Getting confused about the day of the week but figuring it out later.

5. Trouble Understanding Visual Images and Spatial Relationships

For some people, having vision problems is a sign of Alzheimer's. They may have difficulty reading, judging distance and determining color or contrast, which may cause problems with driving.

Q. What's a typical age-related change?

A. Vision changes related to cataracts.

6. New Problems with Words in Speaking or Writing

People with Alzheimer's may have trouble following or joining a conversation. They may stop in the middle of a conversation and have no idea how to continue or they may repeat themselves. They may struggle with vocabulary, have problems finding the right word or call things by the wrong name (e.g., calling a "watch" a "hand-clock").

A. What's a typical age-related change?

B. Sometimes having trouble finding the right word.

7. Misplacing Things and Losing the Ability to Retrace Steps

A person with Alzheimer's disease may put things in unusual places. They may lose things and be unable to go back over their steps to find them again. Sometimes, they may accuse others of stealing. This may occur more frequently over time.

Q. What's a typical age-related change?

A. Misplacing things from time to time and retracing steps to find them.

8. Decreased or Poor Judgment

People with Alzheimer's may experience changes in judgment or decision-making. For example, they may use poor judgment when dealing with money, giving large amounts to telemarketers. They may pay less attention to grooming or keeping themselves clean.

Q. What's a typical age-related change?

A. Making a bad decision once in a while.

9. Withdrawal From Work or Social Activities

A person with Alzheimer's may start to remove themselves from hobbies, social activities, work projects or sports. They may have trouble keeping up with a favorite sports team or remembering how to complete a favorite hobby. They may also avoid being social because of the changes they have experienced.

Q. What's a typical age-related change?

A. Sometimes feeling weary of work, family and social obligations.

10. Changes in Mood and Personality

The mood and personalities of people with Alzheimer's can change. They can become confused, suspicious, depressed, fearful or anxious. They may be easily upset at home, at work, with friends or in places where they are out of their comfort zone.

Q. What's a typical age-related change?

A. Developing very specific ways of doing things and becoming irritable when a routine is disrupted.

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Source: ALZ.org