Alzheimer’s Disease is an incurable disease that starts with mild memory loss and gets worse over time, eventually leading to increased confusion and the inability to communicate and perform routine tasks (including walking and swallowing) as the patient’s brain cells degenerate and die.
More than 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease, which also affects an estimated 48 million people worldwide. It is usually found in people 60 and older, although some people in their 30s, 40s and 50s (fewer than 5 percent) develop early onset Alzheimer’s. While the average patient lives about eight years after being diagnosed, some survive as long as 20 years, depending on their age and overall health.
Scientists still aren’t sure exactly what causes Alzheimer’s, although it’s thought to be inherited in some cases. Other risk factors associated with the disease include a history of head injuries, depression, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
Recent brain research suggests that “Tau” fibers – tangled proteins that build up inside cells, may be helping to kill patients’ brain cells. Also suspected are the beta-amyloid plaque deposits that build up between brain cells.
For most people, some memory loss is a normal part of aging. But those experiencing more severe, and worsening memory loss should consider this a warning sign, since difficulty with remembering newly learned information is usually the first symptom of Alzheimer’s.
Other early Alzheimer’s symptoms include:
Confusion about time or place
Difficulty completing familiar tasks
Problems with speaking or writing
Mood or personality changes
It’s important to be aware of these and other early Alzheimer’s warning signs, since early diagnosis can give patients and their families more time to plan for the future and to take advantage of the less-severe initial stages of the disease.
Although there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s, doctors have had some success in temporarily delaying the worsening of symptoms with the following medications:
Cholinesterase inhibitors – have helped some patients with mild memory loss by preventing the breakdown of the neurotransmitter chemical acetylcholine in the brain.
Memantine – helps to regulate the activity of glutamate, a different brain messenger chemical, which has helped improve memory for some patients with more severe Alzheimer’s.
Vitamin E – is prescribed by some doctors to treat Alzheimer’s symptoms, although studies on its effectiveness thus far have been inconclusive.
Families often care for their loved ones at home during the early stages of Alzheimer’s, by helping with meals, medication, transportation, money management and other daily activities. As symptoms worsen, however, many families find that memory care programs like those offered by Carlton Senior Living can greatly reduce the stress of providing daily care and safety.
Carlton’s signature memory care program is offered at several of its San Francisco Bay Area locations, including Davis, Elk Grove, Fremont, Pleasant Hill – Poet’s Corner, Sacramento, San Leandro and San Jose.