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What Happens To The Brain When You Have Alzheimer Disease

Research On Alzheimers Continues

What Happens When You Have Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimers treatment can help improve the quality of life for people with the disease and slow its progress but the quest for new treatments continues worldwide.

The aim is to develop medications that target the brain changes that Alzheimers causes, but more research funding is needed to achieve that goal.

You can review the Alzheimers Associations Treatment Horizon webpage for more information about treatment of the disease.

What changes have you witnessed in a loved one going through the stages of Alzheimers? What can you tell others to help them cope through these stages? Wed like to hear your stories and suggestions in the comments below.

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Support For Families And Alzheimer’s Disease Caregivers

Caring for a person with Alzheimers can have significant physical, emotional, and financial costs. The demands of day-to-day care, changes in family roles, and decisions about placement in a care facility can be difficult. NIA supports efforts to evaluate programs, strategies, approaches, and other research to improve the quality of care and life for those living with dementia and their caregivers.

Becoming well-informed about the disease is one important long-term strategy. Programs that teach families about the various stages of Alzheimers and about ways to deal with difficult behaviors and other caregiving challenges can help.

Good coping skills, a strong support network, and respite care are other things that may help caregivers handle the stress of caring for a loved one with Alzheimers. For example, staying physically active provides physical and emotional benefits.

Some caregivers have found that joining a support group is a critical lifeline. These support groups enable caregivers to find respite, express concerns, share experiences, get tips, and receive emotional comfort. Many organizations sponsor in-person and online support groups, including groups for people with early-stage Alzheimers and their families.

Read about this topic in Spanish. Lea sobre este tema en espaƱol.

Stages Of Alzheimers Disease

These stages include:

1. Early Stage Alzheimers

The earliest stages of Alzheimers may begin 20 years or more before diagnosis. At this point, plaques and tangles begin to form in parts of the brain that impact learning, memory, planning and thinking. Medical tests cannot yet detect Alzheimers in its earliest stages.

2. Mild to Moderate Alzheimers

As Alzheimers progresses to moderate stages, more plaques and tangles develop in areas of the brain important to memory, planning and thinking, and spread to areas that affect speech. These changes cause noticeable confusion and communication problems that can impact an individuals personal or work life. Often, Alzheimers is diagnosed in this stage.

Mild to moderate Alzheimers stages can last from two to 10 years. During this time period, individuals may struggle to recognize family members and friends. They may also experience behavior and personality changes.

3. Late Stage Alzheimers

The most severe stage of Alzheimers can last from one to five years. Most of the brains outer layer, which scientists have mapped to memory, movement, thinking and other functions, has been permanently damaged.

Widespread cell death causes the brain to shrink. At this point, individuals no longer recognize family and friends. They also lose their ability to care for themselves and communicate.

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What To Do If You Suspect Alzheimers Disease

Getting checked by your healthcare provider can help determine if the symptoms you are experiencing are related to Alzheimers disease, or a more treatable conditions such as a vitamin deficiency or a side effect from medication. Early and accurate diagnosis also provides opportunities for you and your family to consider financial planning, develop advance directives, enroll in clinical trials, and anticipate care needs.

What Are The Symptoms Of Dementia

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Early symptoms of dementia include :

  • Forgetting recent events or information
  • Repeating comments or questions over a very short period of time
  • Misplacing commonly used items or placing them in usual spots
  • Not knowing the date or time
  • Having difficulty coming up with the right words
  • Experiencing a change in mood, behavior or interests

Signs that dementia is getting worse include:

  • Ability to remember and make decisions further declines
  • Talking and finding the right words becomes more difficult
  • Daily complex tasks, such as brushing teeth, making a cup of coffee, working a tv remote, cooking, and paying bills become more challenging
  • Rational thinking and behavior and ability to problem solve lessen
  • Sleeping pattern change
  • Anxiety, frustration, confusion, agitation, suspiciousness, sadness and/or depression increase
  • More help with activities of daily living grooming, toileting, bathing, eating is needed
  • Hallucinations may develop

The symptoms mentioned above are general symptoms of dementia. Each person diagnosed with dementia has different symptoms, depending on what area of the brain is damaged. Additional symptoms and/or unique symptoms occur with specific types of dementia.

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Beyond Memory Loss: How To Handle The Other Symptoms Of Alzheimer’s

There is a lot of talk about the emotional pain patients and caregivers suffer when a loved one loses memories to Alzheimers. But what about the other symptoms? Here are tips from a Johns Hopkins expert on what to watch for and how to manage.

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What Are The Symptoms Of Alzheimers

No two people with Alzheimers will experience the condition in the same way. Fran Vandelli, Dementia Lead at Bupa Care Services, shares with us some of the most common symptoms of Alzheimer’s:

  • Difficulty remembering dates and times
  • Difficulty taking in new information
  • Forgetting the names of familiar people or places
  • Struggling to speak or find the right words
  • Withdraw or lose interest in usual activities
  • Difficulty planning or making decisions
  • Becoming easily confused, anxious or agitated
  • Misplacing items
  • Difficulty judging distances or navigating stairs

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When Someone You Love Has Alzheimer Disease

You might feel sad or angry or both if someone you love has Alzheimer disease. You might feel nervous around the person, especially if he or she is having trouble remembering important things or can no longer take care of himself or herself.

You might not want to go visit the person, even though your mom or dad wants you to. You are definitely not alone in these feelings. Try talking with a parent or another trusted adult. Just saying what’s on your mind might help you feel better. You also may learn that the adults in your life are having struggles of their own with the situation.

If you visit a loved one who has Alzheimer disease, try to be patient. He or she may have good days and bad days. It can be sad if you can’t have fun in the same ways together. Maybe you and your grandmother liked to go to concerts. If that’s no longer possible, maybe bring her some wonderful music and listen together. It’s a way to show her that you care and showing that love is important, even if her memory is failing.

Icipating In Alzheimer’s Disease Clinical Trials

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Everybody those with Alzheimers disease or MCI as well as healthy volunteers with or without a family history of Alzheimers may be able to take part in clinical trials and studies. Participants in Alzheimers clinical research help scientists learn how the brain changes in healthy aging and in Alzheimers. Currently, at least 270,000 volunteers are needed to participate in more than 250 active clinical trials and studies that are testing ways to understand, diagnose, treat, and prevent Alzheimers disease.

Volunteering for a clinical trial is one way to help in the fight against Alzheimers. Studies need participants of different ages, sexes, races, and ethnicities to ensure that results are meaningful for many people. To learn more about clinical trials, watch this video from NIH’s National Library of Medicine.

NIA leads the federal governments research efforts on Alzheimers. NIA-supported Alzheimers Disease Research Centers throughout the U.S. conduct a wide range of research, including studies of the causes, diagnosis, and management of the disease. NIA also sponsors the Alzheimers Clinical Trials Consortium, which is designed to accelerate and expand studies and therapies in Alzheimers and related dementias.

To learn more about Alzheimers clinical trials and studies:

  • Talk to your health care provider about local studies that may be right for you.

Watch videos of participants in Alzheimers disease clinical trials talking about their experiences.

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What Is Alzheimers Disease

  • Alzheimers disease is the most common type of dementia.
  • It is a progressive disease beginning with mild memory loss and possibly leading to loss of the ability to carry on a conversation and respond to the environment.
  • Alzheimers disease involves parts of the brain that control thought, memory, and language.
  • It can seriously affect a persons ability to carry out daily activities.

Facts About Alzheimer Disease

Alzheimer disease is becoming more common as the general population gets older and lives longer. Alzheimer disease usually affects people older than 65. A small number of people have early-onset Alzheimer disease, which starts when they are in their 30s or 40s.

People live for an average of 8 years after their symptoms appear. But the disease can progress quickly in some people and slowly in others. Some people live as long as 20 years with the disease.

No one knows what causes Alzheimer disease. Genes, environment, lifestyle, and overall health may all play a role.

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Dementia With Lewy Bodies

The brain of a person with dementia with Lewy bodies often shows less overall shrinkage than the brain of someone with Alzheimer’s or FTD. Instead, tiny deposits of protein are seen in the cerebral cortex, limbic system and brain stem.

In DLB, early damage is seen in the visual pathways and – in some studies – also in the frontal lobes. This may explain why problems with vision and attention are common early symptoms of DLB.

Similarly, Lewy bodies in the brain stem may be linked to the problems with movement, as also seen in Parkinson’s disease.

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Dementia And The Brain

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Knowing more about the brain and how it can change can help to understand the symptoms of dementia. It can help a person with dementia to live well, or to support a person with dementia to live well.

  • You are here: Dementia and the brain
  • These pages explain which areas of the brain are responsible for certain skills and abilities, and how these are affected by dementia. We explain how changes to the brain relate to changes a person may notice as the condition progresses.

    This information is helpful for anyone who wants to find out more about how the brain is affected by dementia.

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    The Stages Of Alzheimers

    The speed with which Alzheimer’s progress varies considerably. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, on average people aged 65+ survive for four to eight years after their diagnosis. However, some can live up to 20 years with the disease.

    While there is some interesting research into a cure for Alzheimer’s, there is currently no treatment for the disease. It’s a progressive and long-term condition, and while some people progress very slowly it’s helpful to think of the progression the three stages, Vandelli tells us.

    Medications To Maintain Mental Function In Alzheimer’s Disease

    Several medications are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat symptoms of Alzheimers. Donepezil, rivastigmine, and galantamine are used to treat the symptoms of mild to moderate Alzheimers. Donepezil, memantine, the rivastigmine patch, and a combination medication of memantine and donepezil are used to treat moderate to severe Alzheimers symptoms. All of these drugs work by regulating neurotransmitters, the chemicals that transmit messages between neurons. They may help reduce symptoms and help with certain behavioral problems. However, these drugs dont change the underlying disease process. They are effective for some but not all people and may help only for a limited time.

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    Is There A Treatment For Alzheimers

    There is no cure for Alzheimer’s, however, there are treatments that may be used to improve brain function and ease symptoms.

    “A doctor will prescribe medication, for example, donepezil or galantamine. The medications are only effective for a couple of years, so it is best to start taking these medicines as soon as Alzheimers is diagnosed, in the early stages,” says Vandelli.

    The aim of this treatment is to mitigate the impact of the disease so that symptoms are eased, helping people living with Alzheimers disease to manage their daily lives for longer. Some people may even have an improvement in their memory function.”

    There are other ways those living with Alzheimer’s can ease the impact of the disease. Staying active, doing tasks independently that can be done safely, eating well, and focusing on building good sleeping habits can help a person look after themselves for longer.

    “Keeping mentally stimulated and interacting with others can help to maintain memory and social skills,” adds Vandelli. “At earlier stages, talking therapies enable people with dementia to share their feelings, come to terms with their diagnosis, and can help with anxiety and depression. Eating a healthy, balanced diet and keeping hydrated will help, too.

    What Are The Warning Signs Of Alzheimers Disease

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    Alzheimers disease is not a normal part of aging. Memory problems are typically one of the first warning signs of Alzheimers disease and related dementias.

    In addition to memory problems, someone with symptoms of Alzheimers disease may experience one or more of the following:

    • Memory loss that disrupts daily life, such as getting lost in a familiar place or repeating questions.
    • Trouble handling money and paying bills.
    • Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure.
    • Misplacing things and being unable to retrace steps to find them.
    • Changes in mood, personality, or behavior.

    Even if you or someone you know has several or even most of these signs, it doesnt mean its Alzheimers disease. Know the 10 warning signs .

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    Medications To Treat The Underlying Alzheimer’s Disease Process

    Aducanumab is the first disease-modifying therapy approved by the FDA to treat Alzheimers disease. The medication helps to reduce amyloid deposits in the brain and may help slow the progression of Alzheimers, although it has not yet been shown to affect clinical outcomes such as progression of cognitive decline or dementia. A doctor or specialist will likely perform tests, such as a PET scan or analysis of cerebrospinal fluid, to look for evidence of amyloid plaques and help decide if the treatment is right for the patient.

    Aducanumab was approved through the FDAs Accelerated Approval Program. This process requires an additional study after approval to confirm the anticipated clinical benefit. If the follow-up trial fails to verify clinical benefit, the FDA may withdraw approval of the drug. Results of the phase 4 clinical trial for aducanumab are expected to be available by early 2030.

    Several other disease-modifying medications are being tested in people with mild cognitive impairment or early Alzheimers as potential treatments.

    The Basics Of Alzheimers Disease

    Scientists are conducting studies to learn more about plaques, tangles, and other biological features of Alzheimers disease. Advances in brain imaging techniques allow researchers to see the development and spread of abnormal amyloid and tau proteins in the living brain, as well as changes in brain structure and function. Scientists are also exploring the very earliest steps in the disease process by studying changes in the brain and body fluids that can be detected years before Alzheimers symptoms appear. Findings from these studies will help in understanding the causes of Alzheimers and make diagnosis easier.

    One of the great mysteries of Alzheimers disease is why it largely affects older adults. Research on normal brain aging is exploring this question. For example, scientists are learning how age-related changes in the brain may harm neurons and affect other types of brain cells to contribute to Alzheimers damage. These age-related changes include atrophy of certain parts of the brain, inflammation, blood vessel damage, production of unstable molecules called free radicals, and mitochondrial dysfunction .

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    Creating A Beneficial Environment For People With Dementia

    People with dementia can benefit from an environment that is the following:

    • Safe: Extra safety measures are usually needed. For example, large signs can be posted as safety reminders , or timers can be installed on stoves or electrical equipment. Hiding car keys may help prevent accidents and placing detectors on doors may help prevent wandering. If wandering is a problem, an identification bracelet or necklace is helpful.

    • Familiar: People with dementia usually function best in familiar surroundings. Moving to a new home or city, rearranging furniture, or even repainting can be disruptive.

    • Stable: Establishing a regular routine for bathing, eating, sleeping, and other activities can give people with dementia a sense of stability. Regular contact with the same people can also help.

    • Planned to help with orientation: A large daily calendar, a clock with large numbers, a radio, well-lit rooms, and a night-light can help with orientation. Also, family members or caregivers can make frequent comments that remind people with dementia of where they are and what is going on.

    How Is Alzheimer’s Disease Diagnosed And Evaluated

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    No single test can determine whether a person has Alzheimer’s disease. A diagnosis is made by determining the presence of certain symptoms and ruling out other causes of dementia. This involves a careful medical evaluation, including a thorough medical history, mental status testing, a physical and neurological exam, blood tests and brain imaging exams, including:

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