What Causes Alzheimer Disease
Lots of research is being done to find out more about the causes of Alzheimer disease. There is no one reason why people get it. Older people are more likely to get it, and the risk increases the older the person gets. In other words, an 85-year-old is more likely to get it than a 65-year-old. And women are more likely to get it than men.
Researchers also think genes handed down from family members can make a person more likely to get Alzheimer disease. But that doesn’t mean everyone related to someone who has it will get the disease. Other things may make it more likely that someone will get the disease, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, Down syndrome, or having a head injury.
On the positive side, researchers believe exercise, a healthy diet, and taking steps to keep your mind active may help delay the start of Alzheimer disease.
Factors That Affect Life Expectancy With Dementia
As with life expectancy in general, many factors affect the expected length of survival after a diagnosis of dementia. If we include everyone of all ages, average life expectancy is decreased by almost nine years by dementia, but this number can be further refined based on individual characteristics. For example, an individuals sex is a factor affecting survival after dementia, just as it affects life expectancy in general. At all ages, expected survival after a dementia diagnosis is about 1.5 years longer for women than for men. Scientists are researching the biological basis for this, and it may also be explained in part by differences in social norms .
Dont Forget The Children And Teens
With so much focus on the person who has dementia, sometimes younger family members donât get the attention they need, or the illness is not explained in a way they can understand.
Children often experience a wide range of emotions when a parent or grandparent has Alzheimerâs disease. Younger children may be fearful that they will get the disease or that they did something to cause it. Teenagers may become resentful if they must take on more responsibilities or feel embarrassed that their parent or grandparent is âdifferent.â College-bound children may be reluctant to leave home.
Reassure young children that they cannot âcatchâ the disease from you. Be straightforward about personality and behaviour changes. For example, the person with Alzheimerâs may forget things, such as their names, and say and do things that may embarrass them. Assure them that this is not their fault or intentional, but a result of the disease.
Find out what their emotional needs are and find ways to support them, such as meeting with a counsellor who specializes in children with a family member diagnosed with Alzheimerâs disease. School social workers and teachers can be notified about what the children may be experiencing and be given information about the disease. Encourage children and teens to attend support group meetings, and include them in counselling sessions.
Here are some examples that might help you cope with role changes within the family:
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How Do People Know They Have It
The first sign of Alzheimer disease is an ongoing pattern of forgetting things. This starts to affect a person’s daily life. He or she may forget where the grocery store is or the names of family and friends. This stage may last for some time or get worse quickly, causing more severe memory loss and forgetfulness.
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.
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Dementia Patients And Their Families Struggle With Uncertainty
When will things get better?
This is a question that dementia patients and their family members ask often. Everyone wants answers, but there are few certainties to be had when dementia is involved. Experts do their best to explain all the nuances of the disease, but do their answers coincide with what a patient actually goes through? Can they truly tell you what its like to be a person living with this horrible condition?
Here is my take on this disease from a patients perspective: Things will never get better. The difficult behaviors and frustration will sometimes subside. You will see glimpses of lucidity and your loved ones old personality from time to time. But, better simply is not possible with this progressive condition.
Alzheimer’s Or Normal Aging
Just about everyone has minor memory glitches as they get older. If someone forgets a name or why they walked into the kitchen, that doesn’t mean they have Alzheimer’s.
The main problem that defines the disease is trouble planning and handling day-to-day tasks, like paying bills, managing a checkbook, or using familiar appliances around the house.
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Memory Loss: Everything Became Fuzzier
Dementia symptoms result from damage to the brain caused by disease or injury. As brain cells die, it becomes difficult or impossible to store new memories or access old ones. Sometimes dementia comes on suddenly, after a stroke or head injury. Often it comes on more slowly as the result of conditions like Alzheimerâs disease or Parkinsonâs disease. Most causes of dementia cannot be reversed.
Mary Ann Becklenberg is in the early stages of Alzheimerâs disease, but her dementia symptoms have already had an enormous impact on her life. In 2006, she had to leave her position as a clinical social worker because she could no longer meet the responsibilities. âThe world became much less defined than it had been,â says Becklenberg. âEverything became fuzzier.â
The diagnosis didnât come until later. John Becklenberg says that he first knew that his wife had Alzheimerâs disease after she returned from a monthlong trip to California. âI was there with her for a week of her stay,â he says. âBut when she got back, she didnât remember that Iâd been there at all.â
âThat was so hard,â says Mary Ann Becklenberg, who now serves as an Alzheimerâs Association early stage adviser. âJohn listed all these things we did and places we went, and I didnât remember any of them. That was when we knew.â
Finding The Message In Dementia Symptoms
When it comes to understanding dementia symptoms, Kallmyer says that there are limits to what a caregiver can do. âSometimes, the behavior of a person with dementia will have no meaning,â she says. âThe disease is just destroying their brain cells, and their actions have no rhyme or reason.â
But other times, Kallmyer says, seemingly irrational dementia symptoms will cloak a message that you can decode. âWe like to think of all behaviors as forms of communication from a person with dementia,â she tells WebMD. Taking the time to interpret and understand could not only get your loved one what they need, but also bring you closer together. While the relationship you once had with your loved one will fade away, you may forge a new and different but still meaningful connection.
John and Mary Ann Becklenberg canât know what the future holds for them, but for now theyâre focusing on what they have.
âI think that weâve actually felt closer as a result of this disease,â says John Becklenberg, who is the primary caregiver for his wife. âIâve had to slow down some and take more time with her.â
She also has some advice. âDespite the difficulties, Iâd urge caregivers and people with to try to find the humor in their lives,â she says. âJohn and I laugh about things, and it helps. People really need to know that.â
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Dementia Symptoms: What Memory Loss Means
Some people think of memory loss superficially, as merely forgetting words or names. But itâs much more profound than that. Everything we do is premised on memory. When you walk into the kitchen to make dinner, your actions are almost unconscious. You grab food from the fridge, turn on the oven, take out plates and silverware â your memories are a foundation, and they give you a context for what youâre supposed to do in a given situation.
For a person with dementia, that context is ripped away. A woman with Alzheimerâs disease may walk into a kitchen and have no idea why they were there or what were supposed to be doing. They might still be able to make dinner â especially in the early stages of the disease â but itâs a struggle. Each step has to be reasoned out and thought through. Thatâs why people with dementia tend to act more slowly than they once did.
In the advanced stages of the disease, the actions of a person with dementia may seem irrational. But Beth Kallmyer, MSW, director of client services for the national office of the Alzheimer’s Association in Chicago, says that they often make a kind of warped logic.
âOur brains are built to reason,â says Kallmyer, âand even when the brain has been affected by a disease like Alzheimerâs, itâs still struggling to reason.â The problem is that as memories are lost, the brain just doesnât have enough information to interpret situations correctly.
Alzheimer’s Disease Causes Cells To Overheat And ‘fry Like Eggs’
Researchers have shown that aggregation of amyloid-beta, one of two key proteins implicated in Alzheimer’s disease, causes cells to overheat and “fry like eggs.”
The researchers from the University of Cambridge used sensors small and sensitive enough to detect temperature changes inside individual cells, and found that as amyloid-beta misfolds and clumps together, it causes cells to overheat.
In an experiment using human cell lines, the researchers found the heat released by amyloid-beta aggregation could potentially cause other, healthy amyloid-beta to aggregate, causing more and more aggregates to form.
In the same series of experiments, the researchers also showed that amyloid-beta aggregation can be stopped, and the cell temperature lowered, with the addition of a drug compound. The experiments also suggest that the compound has potential as a therapeutic for Alzheimer’s disease, although extensive tests and clinical trials would first be required.
The researchers say their assay could be used as a diagnostic tool for Alzheimer’s disease, or to screen potential drug candidates. The results are reported in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.
It is a difficult disease to study, since it develops over decades, and a definitive diagnosis can only be given after examining samples of brain tissue after death. It is still not known what kind of biochemical changes inside a cell lead to amyloid-beta aggregation.
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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.
Life Expectancy After An Alzheimers Disease Diagnosis
James M. Ellison, MD, MPH
Swank Center for Memory Care and Geriatric Consultation, ChristianaCare
- Expert Advice
Learn about the many factors that affect average life expectancy after a diagnosis of Alzheimers disease.
Genevieve* asked if she could speak privately with me after her mothers evaluation session and diagnosis of Alzheimers disease. I didnt want to ask this in front of her, she said, but my brother and I want to knowhow much time does she have left? Life expectancy after a diagnosis of Alzheimers disease, while uncomfortable to discuss, can be important information for patients and families to have. Ill describe what we know about this topic, and some of the factors that affect survival with and without dementia. Please bear in mind that this information is based on statistical averages, and there can be individual variations in the disease and a person’s resilience to it.
*The name and details were changed to protect privacy.
The most honest answer to Genevieves question may be, It depends. After a diagnosis of Alzheimers disease or another dementia, people can live for months to years, depending on individual circumstances. Its been shown that factors like age, race, genetics, health background, socioeconomic status, and education influence the life expectancy of large numbers of people with Alzheimers. However, every individuals disease is different, and may not follow the average course.
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What Are The Signs And Symptoms Of Alzheimers
Memory problems are often one of the first signs of Alzheimers. Symptoms vary from person to person, and may include problems with:
- Word-finding, or having more trouble coming up with words than other people the same age.
- Vision and spatial issues, like awareness of the space around them.
- Impaired reasoning or judgment, which can impact decisions.
Other symptoms may be changes in the persons behavior, including:
- Taking longer to complete normal daily tasks.
- Repeating questions.
- Trouble handling money and paying bills.
- Wandering and getting lost.
- Losing things or misplacing them in odd places.
- Mood and personality changes.
- Increased anxiety and/or aggression.
How Does Dementia Affect Everyday Life
At Alzheimers Research UK, we have the opportunity to talk to, work with and befriend many inspirational and passionate people. All too often, these people have personal experience of dementia in fact 1 in 2 people know someone affected by dementia. They may not have a diagnosis themselves, but often they are carers, loved ones, or people who offer unwavering support to friends.
Its clear from speaking to our passionate supporters, that they want to see a life-changing new treatment for dementia. Current treatments can help with symptoms for a time, but today there are no medicines to slow down, prevent or treat the underlying diseases that cause dementia.
There are many ways an emerging new treatment could be judged as a success. Arguably the most important way is by improving the day-to-day aspects of life that dementia makes so hard.
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Dementia May Even Alter Someones Perception Of Time
Alzheimers and dementia dont just alter how patients see rooms and words, it can even change how they perceive day and night. A normal sunny morning on the patio can be just as confusing as the disorganized kitchen.
On the dementia patients patio, the dark sky reveals why people with the disease mix up their days and nights. Although there are clear signs its daytime in both pictures, an Alzheimers patients may confuse 4am for 4pm and vice versa.
The slippers again show how items can become easily misplaced. While it may have made sense to put them there at one time, it may not be the right place later on. The same memory issues create tripping and falling hazards in the dementia patients garden. Dangerous tools and garden hoses left out due to failing memory can injure seniors long after they stopped using them.
So What Would New Drugs Do To Help
The dementia treatments currently available temporarily stabilise or improve a persons symptoms, helping them to maintain their ability to carry out day-to-day tasks for longer. This can make a big difference to someones quality of life but, unfortunately, current treatments dont work for everybody.
Our scientists are working hard to produce life-changing treatments that make real breakthroughs for the day-to-day lives of people with dementia.
One key measure of success for these treatments is to see whether they improve memory and thinking skills. But as this blog explains, its improvements in many aspects of day-to-day life that could have the biggest positive effect on a person with dementia and their family.
Symptomatic treatments, similar to those already available, could help make these improvements. But longer-term improvements in day-to-day life are more likely to come from transformational new treatments that can actually slow or stop the underlying diseases behind dementia, like Alzheimers, and protect the brain from damage.
For any new disease-modifying treatment to be approved for use in people, it would have to benefit a persons ability to carry out daily tasks in clinical trials through specialised tests.
The online tool will help you to understand what developing a treatment could mean for someone with dementia and their families.
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What Is The Burden Of Alzheimers Disease In The United States
- Alzheimers disease is one of the top 10 leading causes of death in the United States.2
- The 6th leading cause of death among US adults.
- The 5th leading cause of death among adults aged 65 years or older.3
In 2020, an estimated 5.8 million Americans aged 65 years or older had Alzheimers disease.1 This number is projected to nearly triple to 14 million people by 2060.1
In 2010, the costs of treating Alzheimers disease were projected to fall between $159 and $215 billion.4 By 2040, these costs are projected to jump to between $379 and more than $500 billion annually.4
Death rates for Alzheimers disease are increasing, unlike heart disease and cancer death rates that are on the decline.5 Dementia, including Alzheimers disease, has been shown to be under-reported in death certificates and therefore the proportion of older people who die from Alzheimers may be considerably higher.6