WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW ABOUT ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE?
Alzheimer’s disease starts very slowly. It is a progressive disease that is fatal with symptoms that get worse over time, generally lasting from 8 to 10 years. Most often, it is diagnosed in people over age 65 but can occur much earlier.
You will hear the terms Amyloid Plaques and Neurofibrillary Tangles (Tau), as they are responsible for the deterioration of normal brain function. In short, Alzheimer’s starts with difficulty remembering newly learned information and progresses to problems with confusion about time and place, aggression, mood swings, trouble with language; then more serious memory loss, problems with speaking, walking, swallowing, and breathing.
MILD COGNITIVE IMPAIRMENT (MCI)
HOW MUCH FORGETFULNESS IS TOO MUCH?
Mom was initially diagnosed with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) and it is the diagnosis that is usually given when a person is in the very beginning stage of some form of dementia. People can be “slightly more forgetful than they used to be, and more forgetful than they ought to be” says Dr. Ronald Peterson, M.D. Ph.D., the physician who diagnosed Ronald Reagan in 1994.
Alzheimer’s is responsible for the majority of all dementias, but there are other forms of cognitive impairment such as Vascular Dementia, Frontotemporal Dementia, Dementia with Lewy Bodies and others, and the treatments or management can be different. Memory problems can even occur from a vitamin B12 deficiency or a thyroid problem. It is best to get an evaluation from a doctor if you are having concerns about a loved one’s memory.
Suggestion: HBO produced a documentary called, “The Alzheimer’s Project” together with 15 supplemental short films. Go to http://www.hbo.com/alzheimers/the-supplementary-series.html. Watch the video called Identifying Mild Cognitive Impairment. It is 20 minutes long and very good.
SIGNS OF NORMAL AGING VS. EARLY ALZHEIMER’S SYMPTOMS
|NORMAL||EARLY ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE|
|Can’t find your keys||Routinely place important items in odd places, such as keys in the fridge, wallet in the dishwasher|
|Search for casual names and words||Forget names of family members and common objects, or substitute words with inappropriate ones|
|Briefly forget conversation details||Frequently forget entire conversations|
|Feel the cold more||Dress regardless of the weather, wear several skirts on a warm day, or shorts in a snow storm|
|Can’t find a recipe||Can’t follow recipe directions|
|Forget to record a check||Can no longer manage checkbook, balance figures, solve problems, or think abstractly|
|Cancel a date with friends||Withdraw from usual interests and activities, sit in front of the TV for hours, sleep far more than usual|
|Make an occasional wrong turn||Get lost in familiar places, don’t remember how you got there or how to get home|
|Feel occasionally sad||Experience rapid mood swings, from tears to rage, for no discernible reason|
As time progresses, the disease moves toward more difficult characteristics and the person may seem somewhat depressed or moody. There may be mild coordination problems and depth perception may affect driving skills. They may miss doses of medication, be unable to handle finances or have trouble preparing meals. They may get lost in familiar places. This stage can last approximately 2 to 4 years.