What are the symptoms, risk factors and treatments associated with Alzheimer’s disease?

This is a topic that is near and dear to my heart. My grandmother has been battling Alzheimer’s for 6 years now (or at least 6 years since she was officially diagnosed). It is a terrible way to grow old. Caregivers, families and friends feel helpless and all they can really do is be there for their loved one. There are several prescription drugs on the market that can help to slow the process down, but they only serve as band aids in prolonging the inevitable. The progression we have experienced began with slight memory loss, then progressed to not being able to think of the correct word to finish a sentence, then to losing short term memory and finally to losing long-term memory. My grandmother spent 60 years with my grandfather before he passed away and I don’t think she even remembers him at this point. There are days when she does not even recognize pictures of herself. It is a truly heart-wrenching experience to watch the increased memory loss and confusion.

Symptoms which can occur:

  • Memory – repeat statements and questions many times, forgets conversations and events, routinely misplace items, and eventually forget names and family members
  • Disorientation – may lose track of the day, time, or date or where they are
  • Speaking and writing – trouble remembering which word(s) they are trying to say and eventually the ability to read and write diminishes
  • Thinking and reasoning – difficulty concentrating and thinking and performing tasks such as balancing the checkbook
  • Making judgments and decisions – trouble responding to things such as something burning on the stove
  • Planning and performing familiar tasks – things such as cooking or playing a favorite game become a struggle, eventually even bathing and dressing become difficult
  • Changes in personality or behavior – mood swings such as depression, anxiety, and stubbornness can become prevalent

Risk factors may include:

  • Age – risk increases with age
  • Family history
  • Mild cognitive impairment
  • Sex – women more prone than men
  • Lifestyle and heart health – increased risk for those with little exercise, smokers, those with high blood pressure or high cholesterol, and those with poorly controlled diabetes.
  • Lifelong learning and social engagement – lower risk for those who challenge themselves mentally and who are more social

Treatments available to slow the process:

  • Cholinesterase inhibitors
  • Memantine
  • Exercise
  • Nutrition
  • Creating a safe and supportive environment

Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease and there is no proven way to prevent the disease. Alzheimer’s seems to be linked to heart disease, Many of the same factors that increase the risk for heart disease can also increase the risk for Alzheimer’s. Some of these include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, excess weight and diabetes. Maintaining an active life mentally, physically, and socially may reduce the risk of this dreaded disease.

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