Your body and mind go through many different changes as you age. Most older adults will begin to experience some form of normal age-related changes in thinking and memory, however, some experience more severe forms of memory loss, called dementia.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, dementia is a general term for loss of memory, language, problem-solving and other thinking abilities that are severe enough to interfere with daily life. Dementia isn’t a single disease, it is an overall term that covers a range of medical conditions.
The most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, which accounts for 60% to 80% of all dementia cases. Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive disease that begins with mild memory loss and gradually worsens over the years due to irreversible loss of function in the brain.
The greatest known risk factor for Alzheimer’s is increasing age. Most people with the disease are 65 and older. After 65, the risk of Alzheimer’s doubles every five years. However, the disease is not a normal part of aging. This means that while age increases risk, it is not a direct cause of Alzheimer’s.
Signs of Alzheimer’s Disease
The early signs of Alzheimer’s disease include forgetting recent events or conversations. As the disease progresses the individual can experience loss of recognition and memory. Late stage symptoms include:
- Memory loss that disrupts everyday life
- Repeating the same questions or stories
- Difficulties completing familiar tasks
- Changes in mood or personality, especially getting easily upset
- Misplacing items and losing the ability to retrace steps
Loved ones play a huge part in recognizing and seeking help for the person experiencing these symptoms. Should symptoms arise and continue, it’s important to talk to a doctor to determine the cause.
Diagnosing a patient with Alzheimer’s disease
Although there is no single test that can determine if someone has Alzheimer’s disease, doctors will review a person’s medical history and perform a physical and neurological exam to be able to diagnose a patient.
During these exams, a doctor will closely evaluate the patient for brain disorders by reviewing his or her reflexes, speech, eye movement, coordination, as well as inspecting the heart, lungs and other vital organs. A thorough examination can help rule out other treatable health conditions that can show similar symptoms as Alzheimer’s disease.
If a doctor doesn’t suspect the patient has other health conditions that are causing symptoms, he or she may perform additional laboratory, brain-imaging or memory tests. These tests will provide doctors with extra information for an accurate diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.
Life after the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease
Although there currently is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, there are treatments and habits that can help manage the symptoms and improve overall quality of life. These include:
- Medications that can slow memory-loss symptoms
- Medications that can help treat changes in behavior, such as anxiety and irritability
- Cognitive therapies that are designed to improve memory and problem-solving skills
- Cognitive rehabilitation that helps with performing everyday tasks
- Consistently visiting a doctor to review medications and symptoms, and provide family members with education and support
One of the most important things to do following a diagnosis is to stay close to and communicate with family members and loved ones. Spending time with loved ones and reminiscing can be considered “gym for the brain.” Talking about things and events from the past has shown to improve moods and overall well-being. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s especially important to find ways to keep a consistent communication. Some ways to do so include:
- Schedule an hour or so each day to call a loved one to talk about their day
- Use video chat applications and websites to share your favorite photos, books or music
- Tell stories from your past to young family members
- Write in a journal each night about your day
- Send a handwritten letter to a loved one
If you or a loved one is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, it’s important to support one another during this difficult time. Family members must remain patient and help their loved one get the care and support they need to live a happy and long life together.
Should you notice memory-loss issues or are noticing a loved one is experiencing these symptoms, find a primary care provider who can help at memorialcare.org/Providers.
Source: Orange County Register