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What Happens If You Have Alzheimer’s Disease

What Is Mild Cognitive Impairment

What Happens When You Have Alzheimer’s Disease

Mild cognitive impairment, or MCI, is a condition in which people have more memory problems than normal for their age but are still able to carry out their normal daily activities. A doctor can do thinking, memory, and language tests to see if a person has MCI. People with MCI are at a greater risk for developing Alzheimers disease, so its important to see a doctor or specialist regularly if you have this condition.

Early Symptoms Of Dementia

Although the early signs vary, common early symptoms of dementia include:

  • memory problems, particularly remembering recent events
  • increasing confusion
  • apathy and withdrawal or depression
  • loss of ability to do everyday tasks.

Sometimes, people fail to recognise that these symptoms indicate that something is wrong. They may mistakenly assume that such behaviour is a normal part of the ageing process. Symptoms may also develop gradually and go unnoticed for a long time. Also, some people may refuse to act, even when they know something is wrong.

What Is Known About Alzheimers Disease

Scientists do not yet fully understand what causes Alzheimers disease. There likely is not a single cause but rather several factors that can affect each person differently.

  • Age is the best known risk factor for Alzheimers disease.
  • Family historyresearchers believe that genetics may play a role in developing Alzheimers disease. However, genes do not equal destiny. A healthy lifestyle may help reduce your risk of developing Alzheimers disease. Two large, long term studies indicate that adequate physical activity, a nutritious diet, limited alcohol consumption, and not smoking may help people. To learn more about the study, you can listen to a short podcast.
  • Changes in the brain can begin years before the first symptoms appear.
  • Researchers are studying whether education, diet, and environment play a role in developing Alzheimers disease.
  • There is growing scientific evidence that healthy behaviors, which have been shown to prevent cancer, diabetes, and heart disease, may also reduce risk for subjective cognitive decline. Heres 8 ways.

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How Is Alzheimers Disease Diagnosed

Doctors use several methods and tools to help determine whether a person who is having memory problems has Alzheimers disease.

To diagnose Alzheimers, doctors may:

  • Ask the person and a family member or friend questions about overall health, use of prescription and over-the-counter medicines, diet, past medical problems, ability to carry out daily activities, and changes in behavior and personality.
  • Conduct tests of memory, problem solving, attention, counting, and language.
  • Carry out standard medical tests, such as blood and urine tests, to identify other possible causes of the problem.
  • Perform brain scans, such as computed tomography , magnetic resonance imaging , or positron emission tomography , to support an Alzheimers diagnosis or to rule out other possible causes for symptoms.

These tests may be repeated to give doctors information about how the persons memory and other cognitive functions are changing over time.

People with memory and thinking concerns should talk to their doctor to find out whether their symptoms are due to Alzheimers or another cause, such as stroke, tumor, Parkinsons disease, sleep disturbances, side effects of medication, an infection, or another type of dementia. Some of these conditions may be treatable and possibly reversible.

In addition, an early diagnosis provides people with more opportunities to participate in clinical trials or other research studies testing possible new treatments for Alzheimers.

Get Family And Healthcare Providers Involved

Alzheimer

If youre having difficulty communicating with a parent or other relative about Alzheimers, see if another family member or a close friend might be willing to try. Someone else may get better results.

If signs of early-stage Alzheimers are apparent, its also important to get the individual to see a doctor right away for a comprehensive evaluation for the disease.

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Health Environmental And Lifestyle Factors

Research suggests that a host of factors beyond genetics may play a role in the development and course of Alzheimers. There is a great deal of interest, for example, in the relationship between cognitive decline and vascular conditions such as heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure, as well as conditions such as diabetes and obesity. Ongoing research will help us understand whether and how reducing risk factors for these conditions may also reduce the risk of Alzheimers.

A nutritious diet, physical activity, social engagement, and mentally stimulating pursuits have all been associated with helping people stay healthy as they age. These factors might also help reduce the risk of cognitive decline and Alzheimers. Researchers are testing some of these possibilities in clinical trials.

What Are Some Risk Factors For Alzheimers Disease

Risk factors for the development of Alzheimers disease include:

  • Age. Increasing age is the primary risk factor for developing Alzheimers disease.
  • Genetics . There is a certain gene, apolipoprotein E that is associated with late-onset Alzheimers disease. Other genes have been associated with early-onset Alzheimers disease.
  • Smoking
  • Obesity

Researchers believe the presence of the last five risk factors mentioned above might reduce the clearance of amyloid protein from the brain, which then increases the risk of developing Alzheimers disease. In particular, the presence of a number of these risk factors at the same time and while the person is in his or her 50s is associated with a higher risk of Alzheimers disease.

There may be some ways to reduce the risk of mental decline. In general, living a healthy lifestyle protects the body from strokes and heart attacks and is believed to also protect the brain from cognitive decline. Scientists cant absolutely prove the cause and effect of the following factors, but studies have shown a positive association.

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The Brain And Body Connection

Though the cause of Alzheimer√Ęs is not known, doctors think the symptoms of the disease are caused by a buildup of harmful proteins in your brain called amyloid and tau. These proteins form large clumps, called tangles and plaques. They get in the way of normal brain function and kill healthy cells.

The damage usually starts in the area of your brain that forms memories. People with early-stage Alzheimer’s disease often have trouble remembering things. As the disease gets worse, the plaques and clusters also appear in the parts of the brain in charge of bodily behaviors.

Everyday activities like walking, eating, going to the bathroom, and talking become harder.

The effects of the disease will differ for each person as it gets worse. The pace can be slow. Some people live up to 20 years after a diagnosis. The average life expectancy, though, is 4 to 8 years.

Tip : Plan For The Future

How Do You Know If You Have Alzheimer Disease

While its not easy to think about, getting your finances in order and figuring out how you want your healthcare handled can give you a sense of power over your future. Talk with your loved ones and communicate your wishes. Discuss and document treatment and end-of-life preferences with your doctors and family members. Appoint someone you trust to make decisions for you when you can no longer make them for yourself.

Although these conversations may be difficult, making your wishes known can also be empowering. And by making important decisions early, youll avoid future medical, financial, and legal confusion.

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Emotion And Behavior Treatments

The emotional and behavioral changes linked with Alzheimers disease can be challenging to manage. People may increasingly experience irritability, anxiety, depression, restlessness, sleep problems, and other difficulties.

Treating the underlying causes of these changes can be helpful. Some may be side effects of medications, discomfort from other medical conditions, or problems with hearing or vision.

Identifying what triggered these behaviors and avoiding or changing these things can help people deal with the changes. Triggers may include changing environments, new caregivers, or being asked to bathe or change clothes.

It is often possible to change the environment to resolve obstacles and boost the persons comfort, security, and peace of mind.

The Alzheimers Association offer a list of helpful coping tips for caregivers.

In some cases, a doctor may recommend medications for these symptoms, such as:

  • antidepressants, for low mood

Coping With A Dementia Diagnosis Tip : Reach Out To Others

Receiving a dementia diagnosis can leave you feeling isolated and alone. You may feel cut off from friends and family who arent able to fully understand what youre going through. You may retreat into your shell for fear of being a burden to others. Or you may even worry about how your relationships could change once people learn you have dementia. While these worries are natural, theyre not a reason to isolate yourself. At this difficult time, the love and support of others can have a huge impact on your mood and outlook.

Living with Alzheimers or another dementia is not easy, but there is help for this journey. Dont wait for others to offer support be proactive and reach out. The more support you have, the better youll be able to cope with symptoms and continue to enrich your life.

Stay connected with family and friends. Maintaining your closest relationships and continuing to enjoy social activities can make a world of difference to your health and attitude. As we age, retirement, relocation, and the loss of loved ones can often shrink our social networks, but its never too late to build new, meaningful friendships.

Seek spiritual counsel. Religious leaders can offer real comfort to believers, as well as ongoing social contact. Even people who do not regularly attend religious services may look towards religion following a diagnosis of dementia. If youre not religious, you may prefer to speak to a therapist or counselor.

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Making The Decision To Stop Medication

Medication should be reviewed regularly, and continued for as long as the benefits are greater than any side effects. If the person with dementia decides to stop taking a drug, they should speak to the doctor first if possible, or as soon as they can after stopping treatment. The doctor may also advise stopping the treatment if the person becomes unable to take the medicines in the way prescribed, even with support from someone else.

How Does Alzheimers Disease Affect The Brain

What is Alzheimers Disease? The First Signs

The brain typically shrinks to some degree in healthy aging but, surprisingly, does not lose neurons in large numbers. In Alzheimers disease, however, damage is widespread, as many neurons stop functioning, lose connections with other neurons, and die. Alzheimers disrupts processes vital to neurons and their networks, including communication, metabolism, and repair.

At first, Alzheimers disease typically destroys neurons and their connections in parts of the brain involved in memory, including the entorhinal cortex and hippocampus. It later affects areas in the cerebral cortex responsible for language, reasoning, and social behavior. Eventually, many other areas of the brain are damaged. Over time, a person with Alzheimers gradually loses his or her ability to live and function independently. Ultimately, the disease is fatal.

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Signs And Symptoms Of Alzheimers Disease

Alzheimers disease is a progressive condition, which means the symptoms develop gradually over many years and eventually become more severe. It affects multiple brain functions.

The first sign of Alzheimers disease is usually minor memory problems.

For example, this could be forgetting about recent conversations or events, and forgetting the names of places and objects.

As the condition develops, memory problems become more severe and further symptoms can develop, such as:

  • confusion, disorientation and getting lost in familiar places
  • difficulty planning or making decisions
  • problems with speech and language
  • problems moving around without assistance or performing self-care tasks
  • personality changes, such as becoming aggressive, demanding and suspicious of others

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What Causes Early

Experts don’t know what triggers the start of Alzheimer disease. They suspect that 2 proteins damage and kill nerve cells. Fragments of one protein, beta-amyloid, build up and are called plaques. Twisted fibers of another protein, tau, are called tangles. Almost everyone develops plaques and tangles as they age. But those with Alzheimer disease develop many, many more. At first, these plaques and tangles damage the memory areas of the brain. Over time, they affect more areas of the brain. Experts don’t know why some people develop so many plaques and tangles, or how they spread and damage the brain.

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How Is It Treated

There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease. But there are medicines that may slow symptoms down for a while and make the disease easier to live with. These medicines may not work for everyone or have a big effect. But most experts think they are worth a try.

As the disease gets worse, you may get depressed or angry and upset. The doctor may also prescribe medicines to help with these problems.

The Effects Of Alzheimers On The Brain

What happens to brain cells with Alzheimers disease?

Damage to the brain begins years before symptoms appear. Abnormal protein deposits form plaques and tangles in the brain of someone with Alzheimers disease. Connections between cells are lost, and they begin to die. In advanced cases, the brain shows significant shrinkage.

Its impossible to diagnose Alzheimers with complete accuracy while a person is alive. The diagnosis can only be confirmed when the brain is examined under a microscope during an autopsy. However, specialists are able to make the correct diagnosis up to 90 percent of the time.

The symptoms of Alzheimers and dementia can overlap, but there can be some differences.

Both conditions can cause:

  • behavioral changes
  • difficulty speaking, swallowing, or walking in advanced stages of the disease

Some types of dementia will share some of these symptoms, but they include or exclude other symptoms that can help make a differential diagnosis. Lewy body dementia , for example, has many of the same later symptoms as Alzheimers. However, people with LBD but are more likely to experience initial symptoms such as visual hallucinations, difficulties with balance, and sleep disturbances.

People with dementia due to Parkinsons or Huntingtons disease are more likely to experience involuntary movement in the early stages of the disease.

Treatment for dementia will depend on the exact cause and type of dementia, but many treatments for dementia and Alzheimers will overlap.

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How To Prevent It

“Although some risk factors such as age or genes cannot be changed, other risk factors such as high blood pressure and lack of exercise usually can be changed to help reduce risk,” the Alzheimer’s Association says. These include:

  • Eating a heart-healthy diet, such as the Mediterranean or DASH diets, which include very little red meat and processed food, and are high in fruits, vegetables,
  • Getting regular exercise.
  • Maintaining good heart health. “Several conditions known to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease such as high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol also increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s,” the Alzheimer’s Association says. “Some autopsy studies show that as many as 80% of individuals with Alzheimer’s disease also have cardiovascular disease.”
  • Maintaining social contacts. This may help prevent Alzheimer’s by keeping the brain active. Research has found that people who are lonely or socially isolated have an increased risk of developing dementia, including Alzheimer’s.
  • Avoiding head injury. And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don’t miss these 35 Places You’re Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Difficulty Determining Time Or Place

Losing track of dates and misunderstanding the passage of time as it occurs are also two common symptoms. Planning for future events can become difficult since they arent immediately occurring.

As symptoms progress, people with AD can become increasingly forgetful about where they are, how they got there, or why theyre there.

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Risk Factors To Consider

Although AD isnt an expected part of advancing age, youre at increased risk as you get older. More than 32 percent of people over age 85 have Alzheimers.

You may also have an increased risk of developing AD if a parent, sibling, or child has the disease. If more than one family member has AD, your risk increases.

The exact cause of early onset AD hasnt been fully determined. Many researchers believe that this disease develops as the result of multiple factors rather than one specific cause.

Researchers have discovered rare genes that may directly cause or contribute to AD. These genes may be carried from one generation to the next within a family. Carrying this gene can result in adults younger than age 65 developing symptoms much earlier than expected.

Difficulty Completing Familiar Tasks

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Some people may experience a greater problem with concentration. Routine day-to-day tasks requiring critical thought may take longer as the disease progresses.

The ability to drive safely may also be called into question. If you or a loved one gets lost while driving a commonly traveled route, this may be a symptom of AD.

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Improve Your Lifestyle For Alzheimers Prevention

Healthy habits may help ward off Alzheimer’s. Consider the following steps to help prevent Alzheimers.

Exercise. “The most convincing evidence is that physical exercise helps prevent the development of Alzheimer’s or slow the progression in people who have symptoms,” says Dr. Marshall. “The recommendation is 30 minutes of moderately vigorous aerobic exercise, three to four days per week.”

Eat a Mediterranean diet. “This has been shown to help thwart Alzheimer’s or slow its progression. A recent study showed that even partial adherence to such a diet is better than nothing, which is relevant to people who may find it difficult to fully adhere to a new diet,” says Dr. Marshall. The diet includes fresh vegetables and fruits whole grains olive oil nuts legumes fish moderate amounts of poultry, eggs, and dairy moderate amounts of red wine and red meat only sparingly.

Get enough sleep. “Growing evidence suggests that improved sleep can help prevent Alzheimer’s and is linked to greater amyloid clearance from the brain,” says Dr. Marshall. Aim for seven to eight hours per night.

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