Alzheimer’s disease is an irreversible, progressive brain disease that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills, and eventually even the ability to carry out the simplest tasks. As many as 5.3 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease. Every 70 seconds, someone will develop Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s destroys brain cells, causing memory loss and problems with thinking and behavior severe enough to affect work, lifelong hobbies or social life. Alzheimer’s gets worse over time, and it can be fatal. Today it is the seventh-leading cause of death in the United States and is the most common form of dementia, a general term for memory loss and other intellectual abilities serious enough to interfere with daily life. Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 50 to 80 percent of dementia cases and has no current cure. But treatments for symptoms, combined with the right services and support, can make life better for the millions of Americans living with Alzheimer’s.
The brain has about 100 billion nerve cells (neurons). Each nerve cell communicates with many others to form networks. Nerve cell networks have special jobs. Some are involved in thinking, learning and remembering. Others help us see, hear and smell. Still others tell our muscles when to move. In Alzheimer’s disease, as in other types of dementia, increasing numbers of brain cells deteriorate and die. 10 warning signs of Alzheimer’s are memory lost that disrupts daily life, challenges in planning or problem solving, difficulty completing familiar task at home or work, confusion with time and place, trouble understanding visual images and distance, new problems with words in speaking or writing, misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps, decreased or poor judgment, withdrawal from work or social activities, and changes in mood and personality. Some risks factors are increasing age, family history, heredity, and head injury. If you notice these signs in your family member, have him/her seen by a physician.
Caregivers of Alzheimer’s patients often feel overwhelmed and should learn the stages of Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s disease consists of three main stages: mild (sometimes called early-stage), moderate, and severe (sometimes called latestage). In mild AD, the first stage, people often have some memory loss and small changes in their personality. For example, they may have trouble making a grocery list and finding items in the store. In moderate Alzheimer’s, people have more trouble organizing, planning, and following instructions. They may need help getting dressed and may start having problems with incontinence. This means they can’t control their bladder and/or bowels. Severe AD is sometimes called latestage AD. In this stage, people often need help with all their daily needs. They may not be able to walk or sit up without help. They may not be able to talk and often cannot recognize family members. Keep in mind proper nutrition; exercise and socialization are important for these patients.
Most importantly, understand and act according to your own physical and emotional limitations. Be sure to take care of yourself, and allow yourself periods of rest and relaxation.